Monday, July 09, 2007

Just Call Me Junior

New Foreign Service Officers are called Entry Level Officers. This is the politically correct update of the old term "junior" officers. On Tuesday, July 3rd, all the ELOs at the FSI were called to a mandatory meeting and advised that any untenured FSO was subject to re-direct. By definition, all ELOs are untenured and "re-direct" simply reminds us that we can be reassigned at any time "for the good of the service".

It seems that there is a bit of a backlog in processing passport applications for US citizens and the State Department has sent out a call for volunteers to help reduce that backlog. Although passport applications are normally the responsibility of the Civil Service, the backlog is so overwhelming that all State employees, including FSOs, are being asked to volunteer their assistance. Anticipating that they won't get anywhere near enough volunteers, State has seen fit to remind all untenured FSOs that we serve at the pleasure of the Department and can be re-directed without notice. Clearing the application backlog is a top priority for State this summer and all personnel are expected to pitch in and help. However, volunteering means completely rescheduling your program training, your required language training, your travel tickets and itinerary, your pack out and shipping arrangements, your arrival at post, and the start of your new job. As Foreign Service Officers we have an expectation that we'll work in Islamabad, Nairobi, Madrid or Chennai. As volunteers for the PPTF (passport task force) we'll be assigned to work in New Orleans, Washington DC, Seattle or Portsmouth, NH.

So, on the one hand, they were calling for volunteers at the meeting on the 3rd (and many of my colleagues stepped up and offered to help right away) but on the other hand, they were simply advising us that if we were needed we would be re-directed and that was that. I left the meeting feeling fairly certain that I wouldn't be called. Islamabad is a one year post and is already two GSOs (my job title) short of its requirement. Surely they would take that into consideration. I have been taking Urdu for over eight weeks and being assigned to the decidedly non-Urdu speaking PPTF would set my Urdu clock back to zero. Surely they would take that into consideration. I haven't taken the ConGen course, which is a prerequisite for adjudicating passports. Surely they would take that into consideration. I just signed a lease and moved into a new apartment in Arlington. Surely they would take that into consideration. In the meantime, I planned to hide as low as possible and not do anything to draw attention to myself. If I could just make it to November, I'd be out of the country before anyone missed me.

I opened an email this morning that read, "Thank you for volunteering to serve on the PPTF." Apparently, they didn't take any of that into consideration.

It seems that I've volunteered to adjudicate passport applications from July 30th until September 1st and will be given ConGen 'light' to learn how to do so. There are several passport offices around the country and my colleagues are being sent everywhere from Seattle to New Orleans. The office in Honolulu seems to be fully staffed and is the only one not requesting assistance. I'm hoping to be assigned to the DC office so I can continue to take my Urdu lessons and not lose the little I've learned. If that isn't possible, I'll ask for the Portsmouth, NH office and go live back up at the beach.

The only impact this will have on me is that my departure to Islamabad will be delayed by between two weeks to a month...or so. I will have all the courses I was scheduled to take during August rescheduled and will pick my program back up in September. If they take out the two gap weeks in my original schedule and drop one or two marginal courses, I could be departing almost on time. Several of my colleagues have been volunteered for much longer periods of time, so my one month seems like light duty indeed.

And now for the good news. During the meeting, it was explained to us that, "as volunteers on the PPTF you will all be assigned to six day work weeks. However, as Junior Officers (all of a sudden we were Junior Officers again, what happened to ELOs?) you will also all be entitled to overtime pay." For the first time in over thirty years I qualify for overtime pay. Allow me to express a heartfelt, YIPPEE!!

I was looking forward to getting to Islamabad and beginning my new job, but I don't really mind doing this. Only a very few people managed to get away before being volunteered, so almost everyone I know will be pitching in and helping. The 135th A100 class started today and their bid list consists of only the US cities with passport offices. They have been volunteered as a group to staff the PPTF immediately after they complete the seven week orientation course. Hey, unless they get sent to New Orleans, they won't have to worry about learning a foreign language.

So that's it. My fantasy baseball team (the OverPaidPrimaDonnas) is solidly in first place (I trounced my cousin Bill's team this week), I'm in my new apartment and I'll be here until I leave unless State decides otherwise, I'm making slow progress but progress nonetheless at Urdu, I'm still going to Islamabad even if it's a few weeks later than I had planned and I qualify for overtime pay because I'm a "Junior Officer"! Washington DC is entering the hot, humid and hazy summer and I'll be staying cool adjudicating passport applications...or, I will as soon as someone explains to me exactly what "adjudicating" means.

These two photos were taken on a recent camping/river tubing/hiking trip I took with some friends in the Shenandoah Valley.

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