It’s nerve-wracking, it’s exciting, and the outcome will determine most of your life for the next 2-3 years. It’s… second tour bidding.
This spring found us halfway through our first tour in Tashkent, along with our colleagues worldwide who also wrap up their first assignments at this time next year. Friends and family started to ask, “Where do you guys go next?” Mid-level colleagues queried, “Have you seen your bid list yet?”
We all refreshed our inboxes waiting for the bid list to be released from Washington, some perhaps more anxiously than others. The truth of the matter was that none of us knew anything – about what it would contain, or when we would see it.
What we got instead, in April, was the Bidder Information Sheet. It asked bidders to fill out their name, current post, differential and equity at said post, medical clearance level, language probation overcome date, and… bidding strategy? Slightly hard to strategize without knowing the possibilities, but in any case, I mentioned that spousal employment and good medical care were most important to me. I probably also said I would enjoy an English or Slavic-speaking post.
I clicked “submit” on the Bidder Information Sheet well before the deadline, feeling good that the assignments team (made up of our CDOs, or Career Development Officers) could verify my particulars and assign me in Tranche A.
Tranche A bidders serve in what are considered more difficult first tour posts (as determined by equity levels) and submit their second tour bids first. After Tranche A bids are assigned, what’s left on the bid list goes to Tranche B second tour bidders and they take their crack at it. And I suppose, after that’s done, the A-100 first tour bidders get to bid on what remains.
So as you can see, it’s a massive and revolving process in which stakes are high: staff to run American embassies and consulates around the world. (For third tour bidders and beyond, the process is pretty much totally self-directed and based on networking and handshakes, but at the first and second tour levels you have to bid and take what you get.)
Then we waited, and waited some more. In early May I stalked my email from three different continents in one week. I kept an eye on the 178th A-100 Facebook and Google group threads. Nothing but angst and rumor, and a flurry of excitement when someone in the office on the weekend saw what we thought was a partial bid list load, and then disappear.
And then one morning in mid-May, the official list dropped. I was back in Tashkent on the visa line conducting interviews with both of my fellow line officers on leave and more than 100 interviews to do on my own. The Outlook new mail notification glowed in the lower right corner of the screen, floating above the consular software I had running, announcing that the “SUMMER 2017 BID LIST IS LIVE!” and urging bidders to click on the link. A waiting room full of eyes studied my face every moment, waiting their turn, and I am certain I had no noticeable reaction to the news. My face remained blank, neutral, as my insides shrieked.
I did the mature thing: I closed Outlook and got on with it. Afterwards I ran to my office and almost forgot to eat lunch while I gaped at the list, eyes scanning through cities, dates and positions faster than my mind could process.
Remember First Tour Bidding? Second tour bidding works a bit differently than first tour bidding. As I talked about (here and here) almost two years ago when the 178th bid for first tours, we received our list during the first week of A-100. We had to bid the entire list, which kept getting updated throughout the two weeks we had to work on it, but finally topped out at 116 jobs in 47 countries. We had a certain percentage of high, medium and low tags based on the total number of available jobs, and had to assign each job accordingly.
I started by assigning my low bids: jobs I wouldn’t be thrilled to do, places I didn’t particularly want to go, and languages I wasn’t interested in learning. (Of course, with the understanding that I had signed a worldwide availability agreement contingent to my employment, and could be assigned absolutely anything on the list, or even something not on the list. That’s what the State Department calls the “needs of the service,” and it pretty much trumps your happy face.) I ended up with 29 low bids. Then I placed my highs, and ended up with 21. The rest of the jobs, 66 in total, were medium bids.
And then came Flag Day at the close of the fifth week of A-100, where we all gathered together in an auditorium shivering with nerves and anticipation, and were told where, what, and when, and then tried to construct the how. For the record, Tashkent was a high bid for me, and privately inside my own mind, one of my highest bids, because I had a strong desire to learn Russian. And thus my journey through eight months of Russian and tradecraft training began.
So, back to Second Tour Bidding. I had ten business days to put together my second tour bid list. This list contained more than three hundred jobs, and our instructions were to select our top 30 and rank them in numerical order of preference. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. I started off by spending a couple of days crossing off places I simply had no interest in, as well as jobs where the timing did not work at all (and there went a couple of central European posts that hurt my heart).
For friends and family, the main item of interest is where you will be. But there are a lot of other factors that will figure into an officer’s decision of how to bid.
First of all, the State Department untenured officer second tour bidding rules:
- If you are at a 10% or lower equity post for your first tour, at least half of your second tour bids must be for 15% or higher hardship posts. This didn’t apply to me, but is known as “fair share”.
- You must serve at least one year in a consular tour during your first two tours. If your first tour was not consular, you can only bid on second tour positions that meet the requirement.
- Except…you have to bid at least six jobs that are in-cone (consular, political, management, economic or public diplomacy), and three of them have to be in your top ten. So this means if you are other than a consular-coned officer, who hasn’t yet done a consular tour, you still have to bid at least three in-cone jobs in your precious top ten, even if the timing doesn’t work particularly well, or those jobs are located somewhere you or your spouse
despiseweren’t hoping for. Again, this did not apply to me either.
- If you aren’t off language probation, you can only bid language-designated jobs. I made sure from the beginning that this would NOT happen to me!
- You can’t bid anything that would cause you to leave your first post early (known as “curtailing”), cause you to take less than 20 business days of mandatory stateside home leave, or that would leave you with insufficient time for onward training before commencing. These are called “invalid bids”.
- You can’t propose any plan that would exceed 78 weeks of training during your first two tours combined. You have to add up literally every week that you were in A-100, language and any tradecraft to see how much training time you have left.
- You must bid jobs located in at least two different geographic regions.
- You cannot bid any jobs in the country where you served your first tour.
- You are allowed to have up to ten “imperfect bids”, as long as no more than two of those imperfect bids exceed the allowable training time. You also have to identify them in your comments as “imperfect”.
So, fine. I had studied the instructions thoroughly at the time I received the Bidder Information Sheet, printed them out, highlighted things I didn’t want to forget, and collected language training and tradecraft schedules for 2017-2018, to the extent they were available, so that when the bid list came out I would have all the information at hand.
When I started to build my bid list on the intranet site as instructed, I realized with dismay that none of my work ever saved. It was too much of a monster to keep losing, and not something to create in one sitting, so I moved it offline to an Excel spreadsheet. That way I could think through the timing, shift my rankings, shape and reshape my strategy, and make relevant post-specific comments that I wanted the CDOs to consider when making my assignment.
So of course, once you understand the rules, you still have lots of your own considerations when ranking your bids.
Here are several examples:
- Is this job, at this post, at this time congruent with how I see my professional goals and trajectory?
- Does this job start sooner than I can do my mandatory home leave and get any required training?
- If I haven’t yet met the requirement that all entry-level officers serve a consular tour, does this job tick the box?
- If I’m not off language probation yet, will this job tick the box? If so, do I have enough training time to learn the language before the assignment starts without exceeding the 78 week maximum?
- Is this a post where my family members can accompany me?
- Does every member of my family meet the medical clearance threshold to serve at this post? What about medical care at Post? In-country generally? Are there trauma centers?
- What are the odds that my spouse will be able to find work? Does this country have a bilateral work agreement with the United States? What about considerations for same-sex couples?
- Does the post have good educational opportunities for my children? What about for kids with special needs? If not, are my spouse and I comfortable with sending our child abroad to boarding school?
- Will I be able to import my car and pets, or do I need to make other arrangements?
- What about travel connections? Is it an isolated outpost, or will I be able to easily visit other places?
- What is housing like? Will I live on a compound, or out somewhere in town? Do I have to find my own housing, and furnish it, or will Post do that?
- What about morale? The weather? Pollution? Traffic?
- How much does it cost to live there? Will I be able to save any money?
- Do I get R&Rs? Danger pay?
- What is the size and reputation of the post? Is it an embassy, a consulate, a branch office, or something else?
You get the idea.
My husband was out of the country during this entire process, so I sent him tons of emails explaining my considerations and asking him to research posts with me from afar. We discussed all of our priorities, imagined our lives in different places, and tried to outline the pros and cons of each decision. With each passing day, decisions became more clear.
For my part, I was excited about choices available to me but a little surprised and disappointed that there were so few Balkan and central European posts available. There were a couple of really exciting opportunities that I couldn’t bid on because the timing was totally invalid. For example, a major Balkan city was ruled out because Post needs someone to encumber the position a full 14 months after I depart Tashkent, and there’s no amount of onward training to justify that. Another exciting opportunity in a gorgeous Western European city was nixed because I wouldn’t be able to meet the 3/3 language requirement in time, as Post needs someone two months after I leave Tashkent.
So what’s the bottom line here?
Our top ten list at the time of submission included posts in southeast Asia, the Mediterranean, the Balkans, and western and northern Europe. Some of them are English-speaking designated jobs, and some of them will require me to be in Arlington, VA for several months to learn a language before arriving and taking up my duties.
We don’t know what our assignment will be, and we don’t know when we will find out. We submitted our bid list 9 days ago, so this coming week would be great, but it could be a couple of weeks yet. We know that CDOs are likely anxious to make assignments and move on to Tranche B bidders, so we are hoping the news will come quickly so we can begin to make our home leave plans for next summer, and explore future opportunities for my husband in the new place.
But as I said, “needs of the service”. Throw a dart at the map and you have about as much accuracy as any speculation I could provide. Privately I hope, but will trust in God and karma for now.
In the meantime, I will be back on the visa line in Tashkent early tomorrow morning. The reality of daily life is still here for the next 11 months. All I can say for sure at this time is that we’ve survived second tour bidding! Onward…