re: "How Not to Fill a Foreign Service"
"Mr. Schmida is absolutely right and I'm disappointed to see that you've drunk the AFSA kool-aid. There is no rational reason to make a 45-year-old GS-15 trade lawyer at USTR or a person with, say, 15 years of experience in international project management spend 2 years in the D.R. 214b'ing an endless stream of B2 applications. One year of training at FSI is more than sufficient and any additional requirement to serve as a consular officer to "earn spurs" is ridiculous. The military analogy is not that Schmida is being asked to accept a commission as a lieutenant instead of as a colonel; it is that he is being asked to serve as a civilian employee of the base post office before then being granted a commission as ... a lieutenant. The FS should admit officers at any appropriate level commensurate with their talents and abilities. If the current population of FSOs thinks the new arrivals haven't paid their dues, then tough. They should also make the consular corps its own separate organization and not require political or econ officers to ever touch that work. Better yet, give the entire consular operation to DHS, which was the original plan before the compromise put into the Homeland Security Act." 22:03
I like Esteban San Roman.
Giving "the entire consular operation to DHS" has some drawbacks. Does this entail the wholesale transfer of FS personnel to DHS? If it doesn't, where do the personnel come from? If it does, who's going to make up the financial loss to the department?
Lots of senior FS officers swear up and down how consular work is an unmatched opportunity for learning the people of a foreign country and making that first official impression. Perhaps they've drunk the Kool-Aid (TM) too and are just spouting the party line, but I think there's something to that. Even allowing for my consular bias, I do think it's a valuable experience for entry level officers regardless of cone. But as I often say of consular work: "I love consular work, I just sometimes wish there weren't so Damned much of it."
One idea that hasn't been floated officially (insofar as I'm aware) is that of creating a FS Specialist cadre of consular specialists. I'm certain I've discussed this before here at CAA, even if only in comment threads.
My sense is that with the end of the Diplomatic Readiness Initiative (DRI), current and future intakes of FSOs are going to get smaller and smaller as the Department is subject to another cycle of right-sizing, re-engineering, and seemingly endless rounds of resource-starving. It's been done before with predictable results. So as the steady stream of incoming entry-level officers slows to a trickle, fewer and fewer ELOs will be available to assign to the ever-increasing consular workload.
In the immediate short-term, that means that non-Consular coned ELOs will find themselves working outside their actual cones for two, perhaps even their first three tours. Or the jobs simply won't be filled and the robbing-peter-to-pay-paul scramble to meet those personnel needs will get increasingly desperate.
Establishing a FS specialty where the Specialists worked only in consular jobs, perhaps even limited to visa work, received consular commissions that allowed them to adjudicate cases (just as Consular Associates were able to do), were funded out of MRV receipts, and received regular overseas assignments just like Generalists and other Specialists could fill the gap. There's considerable precedence for this sort of thing within the Management cone, as the FS Specialists who do only GSO work, for instance, can attest.
If they made the consular corps its own separate organization again, would be get our uniforms back? (Once upon a time, consular officers wore naval uniforms, blue with red facings, but without insignia of rank.)
And no offense to postal employees intended (at least not by me), but being a consular officer is about more than being a mail clerk. I can attest to that, having been, as an additional duty, the Unit Mail Clerk (UMC) for my company during our Operation Iraqi Freedom I deployment. I still hold that having a new officer do "lieutenant-level" (or "company-grade") work is not improper rather than setting them straight to colonel-level work (i.e., "field-grade") right out of being sworn into the Service. While I know several FSOs who fully believe their talents are wasted and would the people ahead of them kindly drop dead or retire so as not to impede their immediate employment as ambassadors, some of us need to learn the ropes first. More of us actually need to do that than I think realize that about themselves.
As for 214b-ing an endless stream of visa applicants in the D.R., maybe Congress needs to authorize sort of a reverse visa waiver program. Visa Waiver works by allowing passport holders from member countries to travel to the U.S. for up to 90 days without requiring a visa. I'm still mulling over how this would work, but reverse visa waiver would be for countries which are the polar opposite of the visa waiver countries, those nations with visa refusal rates exceeding 60-70 percent, those nations whose citizens have significant illegal alien populations in the U.S.
I'm not sure how to execute this, but the idea would be that if you were from one of those countries, you basically couldn't even apply for a visa without meeting a much higher bar than simply paying the $100 dollar application fee. Part of it would be in limiting re-applications by denied applicants to once per calendar year; currently any applicant who coughs up $100 is guaranteed an interview, which makes for very long lines in some places and even longer wait times in others.
Kool-Aid (TM) smile, anyone?