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Foreign Service Officers
Foreign Service officers work in embassies and consulates throughout the world. Between foreign assignments, they may have duties in the Department of State in Washington, D.C., or they may be temporarily detailed to the Department of Defense, the Department of Commerce, or other government departments and agencies. Similarly, Foreign Service information officers serve abroad or may work in the Bureau of International Information Programs in Washington, D.C.
The work of Foreign Service officers is divided into five broad areas: Management Affairs, Consular Affairs, Economic Affairs, Political Affairs, and Public Diplomacy.
Management officers who work in embassies and consulates manage and administer the day-to-day operations of their posts. Some handle financial matters such as planning budgets and controlling expenditures. Others work in general services: They purchase and look after government property and supplies, negotiate leases and contracts for office space and housing, and make arrangements for travel and shipping. Personnel officers deal with assignments, promotions, and personnel relations affecting both U.S. and local workers. This includes hiring local workers and arranging labor and management agreements. Management officers based in Washington, D.C., do similar work and act as liaison between the Department of State and their overseas colleagues.
Consular officers strengthen U.S. border security by helping and advising U.S. citizens abroad as well as foreigners wishing to enter the United States as visitors or residents. They provide medical, legal, personal, and travel assistance to U.S. citizens in cases of accidents or emergencies, such as helping those without money to return home, finding lost relatives, visiting and advising those in foreign jails, and distributing Social Security checks and other federal benefits to eligible people. They issue passports, register births and deaths and other information, serve as notaries public, and take testimony needed by courts in the United States. In addition, these officers issue visas to foreign nationals who want to enter the United States and decide which of them are eligible for citizenship. Consular officers located in the Bureau of Consular Affairs in Washington provide support and help for their fellow officers abroad.
Economic and commercial affairs may be handled by one officer at a small post or divided between two full-time officers at a large post. Economic officers study the structure of a country's economy and the way it functions to determine how the United States might be affected by trends, trade patterns, and methods of setting prices. They study environmental, science, technology, and health issues. Their analysis of the economic data, based on a thorough understanding of the international monetary system, is passed along to their counterparts in Washington. Economic officers in Washington write position papers for the State Department and the White House, suggesting U.S. policies to help improve economic conditions in foreign nations.
Commercial officers concern themselves with building U.S. trade overseas. They carry out marketing and promotion campaigns to encourage foreign countries to do business with the United States. When they learn of potential trade and investment opportunities abroad, they inform U.S. companies that might be interested. They then help the firms find local agents and advise them about local business practices. Most commercial officers are members of the U.S. Commercial Service of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Political officers overseas convey the views and position of the United States to government officials of the countries where they are based. They also keep the United States informed about any political developments that may affect U.S. interests, and may negotiate agreements between the two governments. Political officers are alert to local developments and reactions to U.S. policy. They maintain close contact with foreign officials and political and labor leaders and try to predict changes in local attitudes or leadership that might affect U.S. policies. They report their observations to Washington and interpret what is happening.
Political officers in Washington study and evaluate the information submitted by their counterparts abroad. They keep State Department and White House officials informed of developments overseas and of the possible effects on the United States. They suggest revisions in U.S. policy and see that their fellow officers abroad carry out approved changes.
The Bureau of International Information Programs assigns public diplomacy officers to serve at diplomatic missions in foreign countries. Information officers prepare and disseminate information designed to help other countries understand the United States and its policies. They distribute press releases and background articles and meet with members of the local press, radio, television, and film companies to give them information about the United States. They also coordinate embassy and consulate Web sites and social media outreach to promote U.S. interests abroad. Cultural officers engage in activities that promote an understanding and appreciation of American culture and traditions. These activities may involve educational and cultural exchanges between the countries, exhibits, lectures, performing arts events, libraries, book translations, English teaching programs, and youth groups. Cultural officers deal with universities and cultural and intellectual leaders. Many officers work on both information and cultural programs.
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