Tuesday, June 03, 2008

TWIST: About those "qualifications"...

The Way I See Things apparently also received a recruitment email. TWIST has some comments on being "particularly well qualified."

I'm Not Really as Qualified as I Claimed I Was


Let's start with the big news: the Department has once again launched the bidding season with a call for volunteers for Iraq. This time they've been a bit more forthcoming, and have sent letters to prospective "volunteers" informing them what jobs they'll be asked to volunteer for. Perhaps finding it out this way, rather than via the Washington Post is the reason that reaction to the letters has been much more muted than it was last year. Perhaps. I'm skeptical myself. My informal survey of the lucky volunteers thus far has revealed a surprising number of people who have already done hardship tours. (Actually, it's not surprising at all---one of the "criteria" for the positions is that you have served in an NEA post in the past. Most NEA posts are hardships.) So building upon this observation, I speculate that there is less wailing and gnashing of teeth this year because these are people who were under no illusion that they could spend their entire careers in posts without hardship or danger.

[A brief aside: it's not actually an illusion that one can spend his or her entire career without serving in a hardship or danger post, despite what our human resources bureau keeps telling us. In fact, since returning to Washington, I've been presented with no small number of role models who not only survive the foreign service without doing their "fair share," but who actually thrive. Click here and here for just two examples.]

Anyway, back to Iraq volunteers...while the reaction has been muted, there has been some. The one or two people I've heard of who are not at hardship posts and have been deemed "qualified" have responded with the plaintive cry that they are not, in fact, qualified for the assignment! This was a consistent theme last year, and one that I've been thinking about a lot. Yes, I suppose that people who already have Arabic and area experience are qualified for these jobs. On the other hand, how many of our colleagues stood up in A-100 when handed a flag and declared, "oh no, I can't go to [fill in the blank]! I'm not qualified!" Better yet, how many people, when they joined the foreign service and were told they would have to be worldwide available, responded, "well, okay, but I'm really only qualified to serve in Canada, because that's the only place I've visited and I only speak English"?


I suspect that the very same people loudly declaring that they should not be sent to Iraq because they are not qualified, would not have the same concerns if the Department suddenly decided to direct them to Europe or Australia.

One could argue that Iraq is a special case. It is a war zone, and, thus, requires more experience than an Embassy in Western Europe. As someone who received one of those "you're qualified, so you're volunteered" letters though, let me assure you that I have no special training in war fighting (or surviving). If Iraq is a special case, nothing in my career as a generalist, including my service in NEA, has especially prepared me for it. I have no background in Iraq and/or its politics. I imagine I'll learn. I am a generalist, afterall, and am supposed to be able to do my job anywhere in the world.

It was really annoying last year to hear some of my colleagues scream and moan and insist that they shouldn't go for any number of reasons. To me that sounded like, "not me, take so and so instead." If the policy of sending so many people to Iraq, including against their will, is bad, it's bad; there's no need for foreign service officers to throw each other to the wolves to limit the personal impact of that bad policy. Some of the outcry last year left a very bad taste in my mouth as I watched at least one A-100 classmate loudly and publicly proclaim that her life was so much more precious than everyone else's and, as a result, it was absurd that the Department would even consider sending her. In the end, they didn't. She has now moved on to complaining about other things, like the inconvenience of flights to her next (non-Iraqi) post.

You can read the entire post here.


jc said...

This is how the exercise looked from the field:

We were advised that in the interest of transparency, the Department was establishing criteria for every position. So each of use was requested to develop four required attributes for our positions. We were advised that language could not be one of these attributes for non-language designated positions.

One irony of Iraq is that although many of the positions in Baghdad are language designated (at least in those cones in which positions are often language designated), out here in the PRTs - where we actually have frequent opportunities to meet Iraqis - our positions are not language designated.

The challenge is not many of the attributes that are most valuable here (patience, calmness, ability to get along with others in a claustrophobic environment) are not ones that show up in your PAR.

So what that leaves me with is: at grade, with experience in each of the two major functions of the cone, and supervisory experience. That should cover at least 95% of in-cone at grade officers (and perhaps 10% of us out in the field - these aren't requirements to bid, anyone getting a letter will likely be much more qualified than the person he/she replaces.)

On the other hand, for a language designated position your criteria could be: at grade, relevant cone experience; language; regional experience (which is almost redundant after the language).

If it's any consolation to those with Arabic getting the letters suggesting they go to Baghdad, my guess is that the people who have been avoiding the hardship posts (is that really possible? Eastern Europe 15 years ago was not Eastern Europe today, so the examples ...) are getting invitations to PRTs.

With that said if there is one attribute that should be disqualifying for this work, it's not wanting to be here. We all have moments when we wonder why decided to come, but for each of us it was a choice freely made.

Consul-At-Arms said...

I've linked back to you here: http://consul-at-arms.blogspot.com/2008/06/re-twist-about-those-qualifications.html