Apr22200911:51 pm

New investment in diplomacy = new jobs in diplomacy

The word on the street (like this street) has been that the Obama Administration is determined to invest substantial resources in the Foreign Service and USAID, thus leading to an increase in Foreign and Civil Service jobs (like 1,500 new jobs, according the NYTimes). This morning, at a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seconded this and remarked that the U.S. must end its underinvestment in diplomacy:

I am determined to see that the men and women of our Foreign and Civil Service get the resources they need to do their jobs safely and effectively. Even Secretary Gates has pointed out our country has underinvested in diplomacy. That must end. Just as we would never deny ammunition to American troops headed into battle, we cannot send our diplomats into the field in today’s world with all of the threats they face, 24/7, without the tools they need. We don’t invest in diplomacy and development; we end up paying a lot more for conflict and all that follows.

On the heels of this hearing, Sherry pointed me to a WashPost article from the end of March that again confirms the Foreign Service and USAID are “hiring, hiring, hiring:”

USAID, Uncle Sam’s foreign assistance agency, plans to double, to 2,200, its ranks of foreign service officers by 2012…[the] agency is looking for people in many areas, including health, finance and contracting. USAID plans to hire more than 300 people this year.

As an interesting footnote, the WashPost article also references the Presidential Management Fellows program (or PMF), a well-known and highly competitive program that is essentially a springboard into high-level government service. A worthy program, to be sure, but please note the line, “The 786 finalists, out of 5,100 who applied, are vying for about 400 jobs at about 80 agencies.” 786 people vying for 400 jobs. Clearly not every PMF is guaranteed a job.  But I have to say, during my dealings with PMF during grad school, it was presented to me in a very different way. More on my PMF experience after the jump.

When I was applying for a PMF, I was led to understand (as were others, including my good friend Karl) that once you got PMF status, you were in like Flynn. A job in the government was yours, it was just a matter of deciding which one. However, as Karl and many others from my class learned the hard way, this was not the case. Instead, you were competing with the other uber-qualified PMFs for a very limited set of positions—it was like being thrown into a regular old job fair, only if the job fair is restricted to incredibly smart, driven, and motivated people. Doesn’t seem to make things much easier, does it?

Karl and several other of my PMF classmates were unable to find PMF jobs, and their PMF status eventually ran out (another thing they never told us—if you don’t land a PMF position within a certain time period, your PMF status is unceremoniously dissolved). While Karl and those other classmates eventually landed jobs and are doing just fine now, they were bitter because the hard work they put in to become PMFs, including a long application process and arduous, day-long interviews, was all for naught. And it’s certainly possible I’m bitter too because I didn’t even make PMF finalist…but after hearing Karl’s difficulties with it all, I was actually pretty pleased about that. Anyhow, I relate this tale not to discourage you from pursuing a PMF, but rather to encourage you to ask all the right questions.

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3 Responses to “New investment in diplomacy = new jobs in diplomacy”

  1. Alanna says:

    One other thing to remember about PMF is that it doesn’t pay that much. Salaries are about 45K. If you had some work experience before you went for your Master’s, you can do better elsewhere in terms of the money.

  2. Mark Overmann says:

    Thanks, Alanna. A good reminder that a PMF or a Master’s doesn’t necessarily equal higher pay in our fields, especially if you don’t have much work experience. I came out of a two year Master’s program with only one year of experience (teaching English abroad in China) and expected that the position/salary levels I could command would be much higher than they actually were–many of my classmates had the same expectation and had those expectations duly dashed with offers of low-level and low-salaried positions, not the higher up stuff we all imagined the Master’s degree guaranteed us. It’s only now that I’m four years removed from my Master’s and deeper into my career that I’m really starting to see my higher degree pay off, in terms of position and salary level.

    But in terms of the PMF, you’re right– while it does vault you into the government to a higher (GS/salary level) than you might get without it, it doesn’t guarantee riches by any means, and many people might have more success with the route you propose.

  3. Laura says:

    To add to Alanna’s point: PMF salaries are variable and definitely not always higher than what you could find elsewhere in government or other development jobs. Just depends on the agency you end up with and what GS level you begin with. Some offer some student loan forgiveness (an excellent perk, obviously), but many others don’t.

    Another important consideration: not all Federal Agencies or programs use PMF. You can’t become a State Dept foreign service officer under PMF (although State does have other PMF positions), and the GAO (Govt Accountability Office) has no PMF program at all, for example.

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