WASHINGTON (AP) --President Barack Obama's proposed foreign affairs budget calls for a massive hiring drive at the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development to staff a dramatic shift from military to civilian operations abroad.
The spending plan submitted to Congress on Friday calls for adding 1,226 new foreign and civil service diplomatic positions at the two agencies in the budget year that starts in October. It projects a 25 percent boost in the total number of foreign service officers by 2013 and doubling the number at USAID by 2012.
There are currently 6,600 foreign service officers at the State Department and another 1,000 at USAID.
"Smart power starts with people," said Jacob Lew, the deputy secretary of state for management and resources who detailed the specifics of the $53.9 billion budget proposal for reporters on Friday. "We want to be able to pursue the policies that we're calling smart power and we don't have the troops to do it without this buildup."
The budget puts the Obama administration on track to double America's foreign aid by 2015 and Lew and other senior officials said neither the State Department nor USAID now has the manpower to handle that.
"We find ourselves today with simply not the resources that you need to have the foreign policy program that we want and need to have," said Lew. "We want to have the capacity to put resources in the field."
So how hard is it to become a Foreign Service Officer? A couple of recent statistics, based on the 2009 first quarter testing cycle: only 40% of test-takers pass the first hurdle, the Foreign Service Officers Test, better known as the Written Exam. That number is cut in half during the second phase, the Qualifications Evaluation Panel, or QEP. Finally comes the OA, which currently also with a 40% pass rate. It should be noted that the pass rate has improved significantly from previous years. In 2009, the State Department plans to hire 750 new FSOs, more than double the rate for 2008. Source: Diplomat in Residence OA prep course, April 2009.).
Contrary to popular belief, there is no educational or foreign experience required to join the Foreign Service. On my OA day, the 11 people in my test group had a variety of backgrounds. Some had PHDs, Masters and law degrees. Other people had never set foot beyond Mexico or Canada. Some were in their early 20s, others in early 40s. The average age was probably 30. For my own background: I am 38, a career journalist with 17 years of professional experience. I am a US Army veteran. I have lived in London for the past four years, and have worked or traveled in 53 countries. I am a first-generation Mexican-American and speak fluent Spanish. My formal education is limited to a BA degree in Communications.