Becoming an FSO Part IV: Clearances and The Register

After the euphoria of passing the Oral Assessment (FSOA) becomes a recent happy memory, it will be time to take a few more steps to keep your candidacy moving forward. The first step is reading all of the information you receive before skipping out of your OA. Some of the actions items are important and mandatory for you to complete within 30 days in order to not be terminated.

DISCLAIMER: These are my own observations about a process I began in 2011.  I’m writing this series to pay forward some of the great information and insights I found online during my own candidacy. But the posts will eventually contain out-of-date information, and thus interested applicants should consult official instructions and sources when pursuing their own candidacies.

You will undergo medical exams for your medical clearance. Your spouse and dependents, if applicable, will need medical clearances too. If your family members receive a Class 2 medical clearance or lower, they may not be able to accompany you to every post. You will also obtain a security clearance. Your failure to obtain a Class 1 medical clearance (worldwide availability) or security clearance will mean the termination of your Foreign Service (FS) candidacy. After all of your clearances are completed, your file will be forwarded to the Final Suitability Review (FSR) panel for adjudication.

If your FSR adjudication is successful, you will be added to the Register for your track (consular, economic, political, management or public diplomacy) with a conditional job offer. You will have 18 months from the date you are added to the Register to receive and accept an offer to A-100, the entry level diplomat orientation at the Foreign Service Institute in Arlington, VA. It’s only at the time you receive your A-100 offer that you finally “have the job”. For many people, this can take years – either because it took multiple candidacies for them to be successful, or because their candidacy got stuck in the pipe along the way. My security clearance took only a few months, but my medical clearance took several additional months. At least during that time my 18 months had not yet begun ticking, because it does not start until you are added to the Register and you cannot be added until all of your clearances and adjudication have been completed.

Your rank order on the Register is determined by your OA score, including any demonstrated language proficiency bonuses or veterans’ preference points. The list is dynamic, meaning that people who are added to the Register after you, but with higher scores, will be ranked ahead of you. Similarly, you will be ranked ahead of people with lower scores, regardless of how much time they have spent on the list. It will also change as others receive their clearances, voluntarily drop off the list or run out of eligibility time, or are offered places in A-100.

From the Foreign Service Career Candidate Guide (April 2012 edition):

“You may decline one appointment offer. If you decline a second appointment offer, your candidacy will be terminated. If you know in advance that you are unavailable during a specific period of time for placement in an orientation class – for example, because you are still working on a degree — you should notify the Registrar’s Office that you will not be available. In those cases, you will not be offered a slot until you notify the Registrar that you are free to accept an appointment. This does NOT stop the 18 month countdown.

Registrars may process a one-time deferment, not to exceed maximum of 24 months on the register. A deferment may be granted to any candidate who is married to a Foreign Service employee currently assigned overseas; is a Peace Corps Volunteer; a candidate serving abroad on a Fulbright grant; on active military duty abroad; or in other U.S. Government civilian service serving abroad. The same deferment may be requested by a spouse living abroad with a person serving abroad on USG orders. Your clock on the Register will be suspended up to 24 months or until your assignment abroad ends, whichever is earlier.”

I was added to the Register on January 15, 2013 and would have expired on or about July 14, 2014 — except that I received my A-100 offer on May 5, 2014. The waiting was brutal, with my 5.5 in consular — in previous cycles a solid score indeed, but against sequestration and lack of hiring authority meant that I risked expiration. My understanding is that no candidates on the consular Register with scores of 5.5 were called between September 2012 and my offer; this means everyone who had been ahead of me with that score had expired from the Register and I was next – but luckily I was saved.

So in the meantime I had initiated another candidacy on which I was invited to return to the OA in the fall of 2014. I confess that I was very happy to not have to return, although I would have had it become necessary. This candidacy process is not for the faint of heart! Now that the August class has also been called, I can see that I would have made it into that class in time before my expiration, as well, but it was good insurance for me to have the “backup candidacy”.

From the day I sat for the FSOT until the day I received my A-100 invitation, 941 days elapsed…on one successful candidacy straight through.


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