Be Awesome

Look, our forefathers died for the "pursuit of happiness," okay? Not for the "sit around and wait of happiness." Now if you want, we can go to the same bar, drink the same beer, talk to the same people every day or you can lick the Liberty Bell. You can grab life by the crack and lick the crap out of it.
--Barney (HIMYM)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Types of USAID FSO Positions

There really isn't a spot on USAID's website that really explains the different roles or positions (Backstops) that USAID FSO's can take anymore.  So below is what used to be on USAID's website that explains in a general sense the roles each type of officer can play.  Of course, every assignment an officer takes is different and duties and capacities can vary greatly:
USAID Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) apply both technical knowledge and a variety of program design, management and evaluation expertise in order to ensure that U.S. government foreign assistance programs meet the needs of partners and beneficiaries in a cost-effective manner and achieve foreign policy objectives. FSOs work directly with the governments and people of the countries in which we serve and also collaborate with other USAID Offices, the Department of State, other U.S. Government (USG) agencies, other development/donor agencies, and non-governmental entities in the not-for-profit and for-profit private sector. Mid- and senior-level officers normally are responsible for large programs and/or lead offices and teams, whereas junior officers serve as team members and are responsible for specific projects or tasks. The following is a brief description of the positions in the USAID Foreign Service.

Population /Health/Nutrition (PHN) Officer
USAID Population/Health/Nutrition (PHN) officers are responsible for developing, overseeing, managing (staff, financial and technical resources), and evaluating PHN programs in any or all of the following areas: population/family planning and reproductive health; child survival (including immunizations, acute respiratory infections, diarrheal diseases); maternal health; HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections; infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria; nutrition (including micronutrient supplementation and fortification); social marketing of commodities as well as behavior change endeavors; population, health or nutrition policy reform; operations/programmatic research and biomedical/clinical research; commodity/pharmaceutical logistics and supply chain management; health systems strengthening and health economics. An example of the kind of project a PHN officer would design or manage is the Pakistan Initiative for Mothers and Newborns, which is transforming traditional birthing practices by collaborating with community-based organizations all over the country.

Economists at USAID provide technical expertise to country, regional, and agency-wide programs, as well as directly to developing country governments. They carry out strategic analysis of current trends and emerging opportunities and challenges as an input to strategic planning. They also apply economic analysis and insight to help guide decisions concerning the allocation of resources among sectors, program design within sectors, and programs affecting cross-cutting issues such as environment or gender. In addition, USAID economists help design and implement programs directed at achieving more rapid, sustained and broad-based growth economic growth. In this capacity, they develop project proposals, prepare technical project specifications and related analyses, and initiate related procurement actions. Programs typically emphasize technical assistance and support for capacity-building among the host country government’s key economic policy agencies (central bank, finance ministry, etc.), as well as among private non-government organizations, business associations, think tanks, and academic institutions.

Agriculture Officer
USAID’s Agriculture Officers analyze constraints to agricultural development and recommend action to overcome them. They design, manage and evaluate a wide variety of interventions (including crop and livestock production and marketing, agribusiness development and trade, farm to market roads, irrigation systems, human and institutional capacity development, innovation systems, and agricultural policy) to enhance food security and increase rural livelihoods. They are proactive and utilize performance monitoring plans and evaluations to improve program and sector performance. For example, Agriculture Officers helped poverty-stricken villagers in Guatemala’s Chirijuyú community improve their quality of life through a program that established an association of agricultural producers, Labradores Mayas or “Mayan Workers.” Incomes increased after the producers became certified in international food regulation practices and started selling to international clients.

Education Officer
Education Officers with USAID provide leadership in the review, evaluation and analysis of education sector data and provide advice on education issues. They analyze constraints to development, both sector-wide and country-specific; develop, coordinate and manage strategies (e.g., basic education, higher education), policies, procedures, and guidelines for establishing programs in the education sector; conduct research and assessments; and initiate courses of action. For example, in Liberia USAID Education Officers developed a program that helps war–affected students complete their elementary school education, by allowing students who missed out on schooling due to the collapse of the system to complete six grades in three years. There are nearly 30,000 students nationwide enrolled in these accelerated classes. As education ambassadors, USAID FSOs meet frequently with high level country officials and advocate for sound education policies, programs, and interventions in the country of assignment.

Environment Officer
Environment Officers at USAID serve as technical leaders in strategic planning exercises and the design and management of programs across a wide range of development issues including climate change, natural resource management (forests, wetlands, wildlife and coastal and marine zones), biodiversity, water, energy, pollution prevention, environmental law, tourism, and urban programs -- that maximize environmental, social and economic benefits. Officers conduct policy and trends analyses and provide technically expert leadership to inform planning exercises at the country, regional, agency, and inter-agency scale. At a country level, officers analyze the status of environmental threats, environmental policy and governance, and their environmental impact. They coordinate and negotiate with host country and US government officials, community organizations, universities, Non-Governmental Organizations, corporations, other donors, and other USAID partners on what needs to be done and how best to accomplish it within the framework of the US foreign assistance program and the context of American foreign policy. For example, USAID partnered with the Government, Non-Governmental Organizations, and local communities in Namibia over a fifteen year period to empower local people to manage, sustain and benefit from their natural resources, particularly wildlife, through community conservancies. This highly successful partnership established 50 conservancies that improve management of over 14.5% of Namibia’s landmass and benefit 220,620 previously disadvantaged Namibians with an increase in their annual income reaching $5.6 million dollars.

Private Enterprise Officer
Private Enterprise Officers with USAID work across sectors and institutions in the public and private sectors to stimulate economic growth and create an environment in which private enterprise can flourish. Officers serve as a technical resource in their missions, assessing data and providing assistance and advice on economic growth issues. They assist in developing and managing strategies, policies, plans, procedures and guidelines for a wide array of private enterprise programs in the economic growth sector (e.g., enterprise development; commercial law and institutional reform; business association development; financial sector reform; trade and investment; fiscal reform; and economic policy and institutions). Private Enterprise Officers work closely with the USAID Global Development Alliance Office to promote and generate partnerships between USAID and the private sector to support development objectives. In Vietnam, USAID officers worked with the private sector, including Qualcomm and Microsoft, to create or upgrade technology learning centers and bring broadband and voice access to rural areas. The project enables youth to compete for better paying jobs and expands Vietnam’s potential for job creation.

Crisis, Stabilization and Governance Officer
USAID’s Crisis, Stabilization and Governance (CSG) Officers research, plan, negotiate, implement, and evaluate emergency, crisis, transition, humanitarian assistance, food assistance and democracy and governance(which include rule of law, electoral and political processes, civil society and media, and good governance) programs. These programs also include conflict management and mitigation, transitional governance, security sector reform, and demobilization, disarmament and reintegration. CSG officers manage U.S. government financial and human resources, implementation teams, contractors and grantees to achieve specific program objectives and results. CSG officers develop requirements and subsequently manage financial instruments (contracts, cooperative agreements, and grants) with Agency partners. In addition, CSG officers develop strategies, assessments, concept papers, project authorizations, and project amendments in line with regulations and guidance. For example, in the Philippines, CSG officers working in USAID’s Democracy and Governance Office carried out a program that strengthened the capacity of the Human Rights Commission to investigate and prosecute human rights abuses. The program contributed to a significant drop in extra-judicial killings of political activists and journalists. In Ethiopia, CSG officers working for USAID’s Food for Peace office arranged to move U.S. donated food to feed chronically malnourished children, while officers working for the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance directed the USG’s response to the tsunami in Indonesia.

Engineering Officer
Engineering Officers with USAID provide technical expertise in design, construction and maintenance of infrastructure facilities and other construction projects including water and sanitation infrastructure, roads and transportation, energy, hospitals, clinics, schools and other public facilities and housing). Officers research and analyze data, and provide construction management advice and services (design and bid documents for performance-based and incentives contracts, design-build and design-bid-build contracts, construction oversight and management services, etc.) using advanced engineering techniques that support lesser cost, decreased construction time, or better product. Officers are experts concerning the requirements for constructing and designing any project under host country standards and laws and are responsible for reviewing, modifying, accepting, or rejecting claims which builders may present for additional compensation and/or extension of time, considering the legal and engineering constraints of the contract. In Egypt, USAID engineers have advised on projects from renovated classrooms in the country’s most remote regions to Cairo’s main power stations and water treatment facilities.

Executive Officer
Executive Officers are key to the functioning of our overseas Missions and serve as primary advisors to the country Director on administrative matters. Executive Officers provide overall direction for general service operations, facilities management, information technology and security, occupational safety and health programs, and construction management. Officers possess strong knowledge of federal rules, regulations and guidelines concerning management issues and develop/monitor internal systems and procedures ensuring efficient and proper use of government resources within the mission. Executive Officers collaborate with all other Mission units on staffing and workforce planning issues; plan and direct the personnel management operations; coordinate training and staff development activities; and provide counseling to employees and their families on a wide range of subjects(e.g. allowances, education, medical evacuations). They sign administrative procurements and personnel contracts. Executive Officers represent USAID on numerous inter-agency committees such as the Housing Board, the Interagency Administrative Council, and the Post Employment Committee. The Executive Officer interacts regularly with the Embassy Management Officer, Budget and Finance Officer and General Services Officer and collaborates with the Regional Security Office and USAID’s Office of Security to ensure compliance with and implementation of all security programs. In addition, officers are responsible for the administrative budget for the Mission in coordination with the Controller. The Executive Officer provides regular advice to USAID implementing partners on administrative issues.

Contracting Officer
Foreign Service Contracting Officers with USAID serve as one of the key business advisors in our overseas Missions. Unlike many other agencies, USAID Contracting Officer responsibilities include the negotiation, award and administration of both acquisition and assistance and as such, officers must possess detailed knowledge of federal and agency acquisition and assistance laws regulations and policies. USAID Contracting Officers use their expertise to support key programs in support of US foreign policy interests including disaster assistance, HIV/AIDs, and environmental programs. Contracting Officers train and support technical staff in the implementation and monitoring of sound development programs while ensuring compliance with award terms and conditions.

Program/Project Development Officer
Program/Project Development Officers play a critical role in planning and managing USAID programs worldwide. They are responsible for country strategy development, policy formulation, performance reporting, programming/budgeting of resources, coordinating with other donors and USG agencies, and public communications and outreach. Program/Project Officers also ensure sound planning, design and implementation of a wide variety of international development programs, by providing policy guidance, advice and support to technical program teams in the overseas field missions. They make sure cross-cutting issues such as gender, climate change, food security, youth, and other issues are included in projects as appropriate, and that programs comply with federal law and agency policy. They prepare and negotiate program agreements with host country governments. Duties also include building alliances with clients and partners, supporting senior management decision-making, defining strategic development objectives, monitoring and evaluating performance, and managing the budget cycle.

Financial Management Officer
Financial Management Officers with USAID work as members of the USAID Controller’s team. The Controller is a member of the Mission’s senior management team charged with the responsibility of accounting and budgeting for Mission operations and conducting a broad range of financial analyses on Agency programs and local implementing partners, including host country financial systems. The officer will assist the Controller to provide advice and assistance to all components of the Mission regarding financial practices and procedures applicable to program implementation. Financial reporting responsibilities include providing Mission management with the information necessary to make operating decisions, as well as providing USAID/Washington with uniform information for central reporting and monitoring. The officer can be expected to liaise with the Inspector General (investigations and audits) staff, and local CPA firms approved by the IG, to review and comment on audit report findings, and work with the Mission to address and close findings. At the request of the Ambassador or the USAID Director, the officer could assist the Controller to perform self-audits or analyses of various USAID field activities or internal administrative operations.


  1. I'm a PC volunteer looking into the PHN backstop and I would like to be working soon after I get back to the US. When do you suggest would be a good time to apply? For peace corps you have to apply 9-12 months ahead of when you would like to start volunteering.


    1. Hi Lali,

      Definitely apply sooner rather than later. The process to get hired can take a long time. If you pass the interview and reference checks, there are also the security and medical checks which for some people can take over 6 months. Also, vacancies these days open up sporadically so if you see Health Officer openings, apply!

      Good luck!

  2. Thank you for your answer! Do you have any other advice for the application process? What to dos/ what not to dos etc. What was the most challenging part for you? Also what was the first part of the application process where you had to actually meet someone from USAID in person and how long was that after you sent in your application? I'm in Peru for Pace Corps and it would be difficult to fly out at a moment's notice so I'm trying to time it to where I can send my application while I'm here but be back in the states for when I have to go do things in person. Thanks again!


    1. Hi Lali,

      If you haven't already, see my section about joining USAID. I have my timeline from application to entry which will give you one example of the time it takes to join.

      For applying, read the instructions for applying carefully and be sure to follow all the steps. For the short answer questions, emphasize your experiences as it relates to the skills and responsibilities of the position. You won't actually meet anyone from USAID until you make it to the oral interviews.

      Since you never know how long it might take for USAID to review the applications and send invites to interviews, it's best to apply now.

      Good luck!


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