Thursday, January 30, 2014

State of the Union Address

Last night's State of the Union Address was phenomenal, particularly in terms of the shout-outs for diplomacy and diplomats.

Like this one:

"And I know this chamber agrees that few Americans give more to their country than our diplomats and the men and women of the United States armed forces. (Extended applause.) Thank you.

Tonight, because of the extraordinary troops and civilians who risk and lay down their lives to keep us free, the United States is more secure."

And this:

You see, in a world of complex threats, our security, our leadership depends on all elements of our power -- including strong and principled diplomacy. American diplomacy has rallied more than 50 countries to prevent nuclear materials from falling into the wrong hands, and allowed us to reduce our own reliance on Cold War stockpiles.

American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria's chemical weapons are being eliminated. (Applause.) And we will continue to work with the international community to usher in the future the Syrian people deserve -- a future free of dictatorship, terror and fear.

As we speak, American diplomacy is supporting Israelis and Palestinians as they engage in the difficult but necessary talks to end the conflict there; to achieve dignity and an independent state for Palestinians, and lasting peace and security for the state of Israel -- a Jewish state that knows America will always be at their side. (Applause.)

And it is American diplomacy, backed by pressure, that has halted the progress of Iran's nuclear program -- and rolled back parts of that program -- for the very first time in a decade. As we gather here tonight, Iran has begun to eliminate its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium.

It's not installing advanced centrifuges. Unprecedented inspections help the world verify every day that Iran is not building a bomb. And with our allies and partners, we're engaged in negotiations to see if we can peacefully achieve a goal we all share: preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. (Applause.)

These negotiations will be difficult; they may not succeed. We are clear-eyed about Iran's support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, which threaten our allies; and we're clear about the mistrust between our nations, mistrust that cannot be wished away. But these negotiations don't rely on trust; any long-term deal we agree to must be based on verifiable action that convinces us and the international community that Iran is not building a nuclear bomb. If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union, then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today. (Applause.)

The sanctions that we put in place helped make this opportunity possible. But let me be clear: if this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it. (Applause.) For the sake of our national security, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed.

You can read the entire speech here.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

State Department Reply to the Washington Diplomat

Director of the Office of Recruitment, Examination and Employment at the Department of State Kaara Ettesvold penned a reply to the article in the Washington Diplomat about the hiring slowdown at State.

She did note one error in the article:

"I would note that the article indicated that candidates who convert to the Foreign Service from the Civil Service (via the Mustang Program) or from Foreign Service Specialist positions are able to enter non-competitively. In fact, those who apply for these conversion programs also pass through a QEP process and sit for the same oral assessment that others face. These programs, which allow conversion candidates who pass the oral assessment to join the next entry class of Foreign Service employees, provide career mobility opportunities to Department employees in recognition of their skills and past service.

It is important to recognize the dedication of the thousands who pursue a candidacy for the Foreign Service. Many government agencies and private corporations consider the Department of State’s assessment process as the “gold standard” for competitive hiring, but, like any assessment process, it is certainly not perfect. We constantly evaluate and revise our process to make sure it continues to meet the needs of the Department as well as give opportunities to the broadest segment of U.S. citizens. Those of us who interact with candidates -- from recruiters and Diplomats in Residence (DIRs), to officers conducting the QEP and oral assessment -- are constantly impressed by the talent, creativity, dedication and perseverance of our candidates. Via our website, we offer various ways to engage with candidates, from contact with the DIRs to a real-time exchange of information on the Forums."

You can read the entire letter here.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Hiring Slowdown at State Leaves Candidates in Limbo

The Washington Diplomat has an interesting piece today about the hiring slowdown at the Department of State and the effects on candidates for the Foreign Service.

According to the article, "According to figures posted on a State Department message board, the hiring decreases have been substantial: In the 2013 fiscal year that just ended, the State Department hired 291 Foreign Service generalists, down 47 percent from the year prior and 150 percent from 2010. Hiring among Foreign Service specialists — who focus on administrative, management and technical matters at embassies abroad — has also fallen, dropping from 502 in 2010 to 299 in 2013.

In a February 2013 letter to Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Secretary of State John Kerry warned about the impact of the cuts on American diplomacy, which seems to be making a comeback of sorts with the recent Iranian nuclear breakthrough. “Cuts of this magnitude would seriously impair our ability to execute our vital missions of national security, diplomacy and development,” he wrote. "

You can read the entire piece here.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Welcome to the 175th A-100

I have gotten really slack.

I haven't welcomed in the newest A-100 in, well, forever.

I had even lost count. I had to go back to the A-100 yahoo group to figure it out.

And I have no idea who the new bloggers are.

So if you are out there and want to be added to my blogroll, let me know.

And if you are joining the Foreign Service in the 175th A-100 class (the 166th, 168th, 169th, 171st, 172nd, 173rd, or 174th or any other ones I missed),


I do want to welcome any bloggers from those classes, including:


Cupcake Diplomacy (longtime female FSO blogger now featuring tandem issues!) 

EDIT: I heard from another 175th blogger, Of Elephants and Castles. The blog is written by a female FSO and her male EFM. Make sure to check it out!

And welcome!

Wednesday, January 01, 2014


Head Uut Aastat Eestist! Happy 2014!

I know many friends who are happy to kick 2013 out the door. For them, I am glad the year is done and they wake today with all the possibilities of a new year and a new (better) start.

For me, 2013 was pretty good. I am the first to admit how blessed I am. I am thankful every day for a job that I love (most days) and that is secure and reasonably well paid (except when Congress shuts down the government). I have a wonderful wife who loves me and beautiful fur and feathered children.

And 2013 brought us the thing I barely dared to hope for: federal recognition of our marriage (and a doubling of the states with marriage equality).

Yes, I think when it is all added up, 2013 was a good year.

And I am an optimist. I believe 2014 will be a good year too.

For us, because we are Foreign Service Officers, it will bring the changes that are routine and yet never routine in our profession. The view from next January 1 will be different from this year's.

Different because with the arrival of January comes the inevitable countdown. Only 6 months left in Estonia. Six months until we pack up all our things once again and say goodbye to the friends we have made here...friends I hope to keep forever.

By the time we celebrate the arrival of 2015, we will have completed our tours here. We will have headed back to the U.S., had home leave (hopefully in the mountains of Tennessee), and traded in our suits for blue jeans and polos and started language training. We will have transitioned from diplomats to bureaucrats, as we all do when we go back to DC, and will be half way through preparation to transition back to diplomats again in Kosovo.

We will have hopefully settled into our new home, the one we have at this point not set foot in, and will hopefully have received all of our belongings from Estonia and storage. Our dog will hopefully have learned how awesome it is to have a yard again (after 10 years without) and our cats will have experienced the joys of a screened porch (because they are not allowed outside, ever. Did you know the life expectancy for a completely indoor cat is nearly triple that of an indoor/outdoor cat?). We will have been able to switch to running (for my wife) and biking (for me...stupid knees) outdoors on a local trail rather than indoors as we are forced by snow to do for much of the year here.

I don't make New year's resolutions anymore (I am profoundly bad at it and so I made a resolution one year to make no more resolutions...that has been one of the only ones I have managed to keep!) I don't even really set goals for the year, because I have proven sort of bad at that too.

But I do have hopes for the year, most of which I can have little impact on other to the degree that praying helps. I hope my family is safe, happy and healthy in the New Year. I hope to see them more when we are stateside. I hope to do well in language, or to at least have fun at it.

But my big hope for 2014 is more of 2013 in the march to equality. I hope more and more states choose to join the right side of history, especially some in my beloved south (I am looking at you South Carolina...I said I was an optimist, right?).

Here's wishing you the most amazing 2014 ever. Head Uut Aastat!