Friday, January 8, 2010

An Explanation

A comment from Diplopundit:

hannah said...
I happened to walk by the A-100 classroom today as one of the coordinators was crushing the blogging hopes and dreams of one of the new officers. It was sad to watch.

I was that new officer. One of our coordinators warned us of the perils of blogging and then quoted directly from this blog and I got shamed for talking about being tired. Then there was discussion of our “hallway reputation” and what blogging could do (essentially hurt our careers). I’m sure that’s the party line (and I can certainly see the thinking behind this) and so I don’t blame the coordinator for that speech, but having said that…

Digger wrote, “ Personally, I blog because I love serving this country and I want other good folks to join me, but with eyes wide open.”

Like Digger, those are the reasons I originally started doing this. There is nothing on this blog that I hadn’t already said in person to my classmates, that hadn’t been mentioned to me by multiple other people. Are there days of work when people are tired? Or bored? Or frustrated? Of course. I think there are those days at every job, and U.S. Government jobs are no different. I have heard similar comments about such days from Ambassadors to interns. Like Digger, I want people who are interested in this career to join with eyes wide open. Is the State Department a great place to work? Of course. Does it have its share of problems like everywhere else? Of course it does.

I don’t believe in sugarcoating everything for interested applicants. People should know what they’re getting themselves into, the good, the bad, and everything in between. It lets them make informed decisions and the Department gets people who are aware of how things work (instead of getting in, possibly hearing a “sugarcoated” version, and then having to figure out some issues on their own).

The State Department’s reputation has taken a hit in the last few years, I think not only in the public as a whole, but even within the government bubble. Personally, I think it’s good for people to know that the Department is not just some giant bureaucratic beheamoth. That even though Foreign Service Officers are sometimes called “elite,” that we are human. We have good days and we have bad days. That yes, there are days that are more exciting than other days. That the Department is not a large conservative entity with the same thinking (excluding policy here of course) on everything. We are a people organization and we need to be able to reach out to people and not be so naive as to believe they'll buy an only positive message.

So where do we go from here? I’m not sure. I’m considering a reboot. I had a couple more posts I had in the works about the exam and entering process, which I enjoyed working on. Maybe I’ll just stick to posting those for now. Or maybe I’ll send them to Digger so at least they’re posted somewhere for who are interested. I'll have to take some time to think about this.

I can't say that this experience hasn't affected my thinking about the State Department and Foreign Service. As for how exactly, that remains to be seen.


  1. I hope you continue blogging. Like you, I have been "warned" about my blogging, and there are things I do to be cautious. I don't discuss foreign policy (though some do) and I am very cautious about anything that could affect security. I keep my blog "anonymous" (though it is pretty easy to figure out who I am...not too many American Indian lesbians who used to be an archaeologist in the Department). And I have not had a problem.

    Don't worry that you admitted being of my classmates played bejeweled the whole time and all of us had trouble staying awake during 3 weeks worth of material crammed into 7 weeks. Cooridor reputation has nothing to do with your blog (though if you constantly griped about the Department and your co-workers, I suppose it could). My wife's A-100 thought they had an A-100 cooridor reputation and that it would be affected by how much they spent on gifts for the coordinator at the end of the class. It isn't that either. It is whether or not people consider you a good colleague. Would people want to serve with you overseas? In the words of my former boss, are you competent, efficient, and nice? Do you carry your fair share?

    I am a little sad that it has affected your thinking about the foreign service, but I hope that will be tempered by your experiences in the long haul. I has a rough first tour, and I went through a period where I was serious about quitting the service. But I ultimately learned that what I was told in A-100, that the Department is your family and will look out for you, was wrong. The Department is a bureacracy that will meet its own needs, often at your expense. But the people you work with, the ones who show what cooridor reputation is all about, they will become your family and they will help you serve your country through good times and bad. I am convinced that there have been times that they are the reason I have stayed, and I am very glad I did.

    I believe in what we do. I believe in blogging about it because I know that the people we serve with are what make a hard life a lot easier. And people who come in with a sugar-coated view of what this life is like are less likely to be the best colleagues. I want people to join who I would want to be part of my FS family, and I want people to use my blog to know if this is the life they want so they can be those people.

    I hope you stay and that you keep blogging.

  2. Digger's pretty much covered all I wanted to say. I hate that you were shamed - it's an effective deterrent, to be clear, but not exactly the most mature response. We're all over Facebook - even the Pol conselor at my last post is actively updating her profile. It's a pretty fine distinction in my mind between Facebook and blogging.

    And for what it's worth... one of my A-100 coordinators (no longer in the service) has been blogging her experiences overseas for years. Once I figured that out, the dire warnings were a little less frightening.

  3. Hope you find your way back into the blogosphere. I'm highly concerned about the chilling effect your experience has highlighted here; I'm sitting on the register waiting for "the call" and while I am not interested in blogging about policy, I worry the official word will come down to cease and desist...

    I've linked to your post on my blog here:


  4. Digger couldn't have said it any better. I myself do wander into policy-related discussions, but I ensure that they remain discussions or musings and not criticisms. As far as the FS stuff goes, I blog as if I weren't anonymous, because, let's face it, no one ever really is.

    I sincerely hope you keep on with it.

  5. I wanted to write to thank everyone for their comments here. I really appreciate hearing a different side of the story from you guys and knowing that other people higher up than me manage to blog and still serve their country.

  6. Diplopundit had a great post up about the outgoing Ambo in the Philippines and how she's been blogging officially non-stop for 4 years. The paygrade matters...

  7. I know nothing about the realities of blogging within the Foreign Service (still a wannabe), but I hope you'll continue to write about your experiences.

  8. Thanks for this posting. I'm starting A-100 in March and recently started a blog, only to receive a harshly worded email from someone I presume is an FSO urging me to take it down immediately. So, I've been thinking a lot about this topic.

    It's interesting to read your perspective. I have to say I agree with you, although I do still worry about corridor reputation. No matter how harmless my postings or what I'm like in person, I worry that one of those people who has a vendetta against all FS blogs will happen to be my supervisor one day...

  9. Blogs are an effective means of conveying the Department's message to the public, if they are used properly.

    But if you're using your "insider knowledge" of the department to blog about things that could be damaging to the institution (and therefore all of us), you are failing your mission and your oath. The organization's mission requires us to represent our government, not ourselves.

    I've read much of your blog, and what I have seen appears appropriate to me - but not essential to a newcomer in the service. I joined (not long ago at all) without the benefit of any insider knowledge from blogs or friends, or otherwise - and I'm doing fine. We all have our gripes of concerns about our work, but those things should be shared appropriately. They should be addressed to your supervisor. If s/he doesn't listen, they should be addressed to proper authorities up the chain of command. If that doesn't work, there is the Secretary's Sounding Board and the dissent channel. Is it hard to face up to a difficult situation and tackle it within proper channels - certainly. Is it easier to blog about it - yes. Take the high road; do the hard thing; advocate at the top of your lungs for change and improvement - from within.

    If you need to do so from outside the organization in a public forum, you should resign. Doing so while serving as an FSO is not in keeping with your obligation to