The Foreign Service Journal, May 2004

M A Y 2 0 0 4 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L 61 ach year, scores of active-duty Foreign Service personnel are tapped for service on a promotion panel. Not all are senior-level (two FP-4 employees were on the 2003 S-VI board “to review the official performance folders of office management specialists in class FS-6”) but four career ministers and a pub- lic member reviewed the files of MC officers for promotion. The basic rule is that you don’t rate your peers or superiors. Panelists are a mix of Washington-based and overseas employees. Some actively volunteer, while others say in the course of dis- cussions with the Human Resources Bureau that they’re willing to serve. Others are between assignments or in Washington for some reason and are “volunteered.” Those who have been toiling in cold climates may welcome the prospect of two months in lovely, semi-tropical Washington during the summer, but many Foreign Service employees regard it as the equivalent of doing jury duty, at best. (The most cynical may view it as an opportunity to do onto others as they have been done unto.) Although the uninitiated may assume selection for a pro- motion panel is akin to being struck by lightning, it is actual- ly fairly commonplace. For the 2003 promotion process, 17 boards were convened, consisting of 93 individuals. We anticipate the same number of panels for 2004. There is one public member on every panel, but that still leaves 76 slots for Foreign Service employees. In addition, two boards met separately to determine per- formance pay awards, incorporating another 11 individuals. Also, on an irregular basis, there are special panels convened to review grievance cases and possible errors regarding promotion. Finally, in keeping with the concept of a unified Foreign Service, State Department officers serve on the promotion pan- els of other foreign affairs agencies, such as the Foreign Agricultural Service. If you project these numbers over the 20-plus years of a standard FSO career, especially when you move into more senior levels (as you do not rate your peers or superiors), you can con- clude that there is a fair chance that you will eventually be one of “the chosen.” Incidentally, the concept of the “public member” may seem puzzling. Why should the State Department subject its most important procedural function — the selection of its best and brightest employees — at least partly to an outside educator, consultant, reporter, or the like? After all, this is not the norm for intelligence agencies, military services, or Justice Department lawyers, let alone for state and local offi- cials, such as police or fire departments. The answer is simple: State believes that to combat the impression of elitism so often cited in commentaries critical David Jones, a retired Senior Foreign Service officer, is a long- time contributor to the Journal . Stephen Smith is an active- duty Senior Foreign Service officer. Both officers have served on promotion panels, Mr. Smith most recently in 2003. B Y D AVID T. J ONES AND S TEPHEN T. S MITH P REPARING FOR P ROMOTION P ANEL S EASON W HETHER YOU VIEW A STINT ON A PROMOTION PANEL AS A PUBLIC SERVICE OR THE EQUIVALENT OF JURY DUTY , HERE ARE SOME TIPS TO MAKE THE EXPERIENCE LESS ONEROUS . E In Lake Wobegon, all the children are above average. Judging from EERs, apparently many of them grow up to be Foreign Service officers.