A Foreign Service Specialist (FSS) is a member of the U.S. Department of State who promotes American interests around the globe. Each FSS applies his or her unique professional and educational experiences while completing technical and administrative functions.
Like their Foreign Service Officer (FSO) counterparts, FSS applicants undergo rigorous screening before joining the U.S. Department of State. However, the hiring process for FSO and FSS applicants is not identical. FSO applicants must pass a written Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT). No such written test is administered to an FSS applicant. Rather, these individuals complete an oral assessment. Both an FSO and an FSS must be granted medical and security clearance and be U.S. citizens.
An FSS is not a generalist. These government employees bring specific training and expertise to the posts they hold. Unlike an FSO, an FSS typically remains in the same functional area throughout his or her government tenure. FSS departments include Administration, Construction Engineering, Facility Management, Information Technology, International Information and English Language Programs, Medical and Health, Office Management and Law Enforcement and Security.
Administration: This department consists of three distinct positions: General Services Officer (GSO), Financial Management Officer (FMO) and Human Resources Officer (HMO). Each officer fulfills different organizational functions. A GSO manages the resources at a diplomatic post, whereas an HMO manages the post’s employees. The role of a FMO is to oversee and administer financial aspects of international government facilities.
Construction Engineering: This specialization has grown in recent years. A Construction Engineer (CE) monitors the construction of diplomatic facilities and consular posts, ensuring that construction projects are completed within budget and in adherence to safety regulations.
Facility Management: A Facility Manger (FM) maintains U.S. government buildings abroad.
Information Technology: Technological advancements impact the duties of Information Technology employees. Information Management Specialists (IMS), Information Management Technical Specialists-Radio (IMST-Radio) and an Information Management Technical Specialist-Unified Communications (IMTS-Unified Communications) manage technological infrastructure and install, repair and maintain software and hardware systems.
International Information and English Language Programs: This department has two job functions: English Language Officer (ELO) and Information Resource Officer (IRO). An ELO can have an overseas or domestic assignment. An overseas ELO manages English teaching activities sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. Those stationed in Washington, D.C. provide administrative and consultative assistance to institutions and programs abroad. The work of an IRO helps guide individuals working within Information Resource Centers at U.S. Embassies.
Medical and Health: This specialization is staffed by medical personnel who provide support and assistance to U.S. Embassy and Consulate workers and their families. There are four roles within this department: Regional Medical Officer (RMO), Regional Medical Officer/Psychiatrist (RMO/P), Foreign Service Medical Providers (FSMP) and Regional Medical Laboratory Scientist (RMLS). Medical employees are constantly on duty.
Office Management: An Office Management Specialist (OMS) provides administrative support to U.S. facilities. Their responsibilities include travel arrangements, secretarial functions and other general office duties.
Law Enforcement and Security: Due to recent events, the responsibilities of diplomatic security officers have expanded. Working within this department are Diplomatic Couriers (DC), Diplomatic Security Special Agents (DSSA), Security Technical Specialists (STT) and Security Engineering Officers (SEO). Through their technical expertise, these specialists protect classified information and guard against cyber espionage.
Characteristics of an FSS
FSS positions are held by individuals with unique skillsets and expertise. Most of these specialists hold advanced degrees and some are proficient in multiple languages. A successful FSS is amenable to worldwide travel and frequent change. Their posts typically change every two to three years and can be in potentially dangerous areas.
An FSS must demonstrate sound judgment and maintain his or her composure in high pressure situations. The salary of an FSS depends on the individual’s level of education and relevant work experience.
Changes Within the Specialties
Global terrorism and technical innovation have altered the FSS role. Current events necessitate the relocation and reconstruction of certain diplomatic facilities. Congress has approved additional funding for “security-driven construction.” Construction Engineers handle these projects. The Information Technology specialization is affected by an increased need for cyber security. Additionally, Human Resources Officers must now be prepared to execute any necessary measures to safely evacuate embassy employees and their families.
FSS positions are highly coveted and the U.S. Department of State places great emphasis on work experience and higher education when making FSS hiring decisions.