re: "Whom Shall I Send?"
"Foreign Service Officers. My perception of most them is thus: Ivy Leaguers who so enjoyed their junior year abroad they want to make a career of it. They seek to spend a make a career out of moving from Paris to Rome to London; hardship posts are the capitals of Eastern Europe."
There's perception and then there's a reality. The map is not the territory and you need to know when to get a new map. You need a new map, badger 6. The Foreign Service you're conjuring out of old stereotypes hasn't existed in at least a generation.
"Foreign Service Officers have a union?"
It's called the American Foreign Service Association. It's not as if we'd ever go on strike, but it's a professional association nonetheless.
AFSA's mission statement:
"AFSA's principal missions are to enhance the effectiveness of the Foreign Service, to protect the professional interests of its members, to ensure the maintenance of high professional standards for both career diplomats and political appointees, and to promote understanding of the critical role of the Foreign Service in promoting America's national security and economic prosperity."
You got something against unions? This isn't my first union after all; I was in the Machinist's union back before I had to start wearing a tie all the time.
"I was surprised the State Department even asked people about where they want to be assigned."
In the military they call them "dream sheets," IIRC. In the Foreign Service there's something called "bidding." It's kind of cumbersome, but it seems to work most of the time. It's not working well enough to keep up with the annual demand of filling every job in Iraq and Afghanistan (as well as a number of other unaccompanied and "danger" posts around the world, totalling 700 jobs that have to be re-filled every year) which is why the Department is finally moving to direct assignments for jobs in Iraq.
There was a shift in this direction beginning during bidding last year. State announced that it would fill unaccompanied and hardship jobs first, before anyone could be assigned to or promised any of the non-hardship positions. And it had redefined what constituted hardship from all posts which authorize hardship pay (which starts at 5 percent of base salary) to only those authorizing 15 percent hardship differential. That worked; all the hardship and unaccompanied jobs were filled, and filled first, but it wasn't enough for a permanent solution.