By Frank Garcia, and Francisco Trigo

Each year, the Bureau of Global Talent Management’s Office of Organization and Talent Analytics (GTM/OTA) uses a sophisticated computer model to project promotion opportunities for each skill and grade of the Foreign Service. The model compares the number of established positions at each grade and each skill category with the number of employees in each of those categories, in order to determine surpluses/deficits. It also considers employee time-in-class, time-in-service, mandatory retirement, and other factors such as hiring plans, career progression, and attrition projections. This is in support of the Foreign Service Act of 1980’s requirement that the Department of State ensures “a regular, predictable flow of talent upward through the ranks and into the Senior Foreign Service” [Title 22, USC Ch. 52: Subchapter VI, 4001. Promotions].

This computer model is a powerful tool that simulates the movement of employees through the Foreign Service’s rank-in-person system, with the goal of closing projected staffing gaps across all grades and skill groups over several years, while avoiding drastic peaks and valleys in promotion rates. If the Department were to promote all at once to fill current-year gaps, promotion opportunities would vary drastically year-to-year due to annual fluctuations in the number of promotion-eligible employees and vacant positions. OTA’s model uses a multi-year promotion planning formula, to spread out promotions over a three-to-five year period, which supports a regular and predictable flow-through of talent. Utilizing the model’s results as a guide and prior to the selection panels convening, the director general (DG) authorizes promotion numbers for every grade and skill group to balance staff strength to the Department’s multi-year needs.

Separately, the Foreign Service Promotion Boards apply the procedural precepts to determine and rank-order tenured Foreign Service employees who have demonstrated the leadership and adaptive capacity to serve successfully at the next higher rank. The determination of promotion eligibility and ranking are based solely on documents in the employee’s electronic official personnel folder, including the Employee Evaluation Report. To keep the process objective, these reviews and rankings are done by the promotion boards without knowledge of the DG-approved promotion numbers. The Office of Performance Evaluation (PE) then applies the pre-approved promotion numbers to the rank-ordered list, which results in promotion lists for further approvals (suitability, e.g., training, security).  

Current Environment

From 2002 to 2016, promotions were at historical highs as a direct result of the Department’s massive staff expansions fueled by the Diplomatic Readiness Initiative (DRI) and Diplomacy 3.0. With the 2017 hiring freeze and end of staff expansions, promotion rates dipped. Since 2018, promotion rates have steadily trended upward again for most skills and grades in comparison to recent historical trends.

Figure 1:

Highlights: Foreign Service Generalists

The overall promotion rate for Foreign Service Officers (FSO) increased from 20 percent in 2018, to 21 percent in 2019. For promotions into and within the Senior Foreign Service (SFS), the promotion rate was up to 33 percent (page 4) in 2019 compared with 26 percent in 2018 and was higher than the 25 percent five-year promotion average for FSOs. Higher promotion rates to the FE-OC (a pay plan for SFS positions) were possible in 2019 because of the increased number of qualified FS-01s. 

Figure 2:

Additionally, in 2019, the DG chose to more equitably distribute the opportunities for FSO promotion into SFS. The DG’s decision to increase equity among the various cones was based on the view that SFS officers are, first and foremost, generalists who can serve in any cone. The result of the DG’s decision was a smoothing out of the conal differences in SFS promotion rates. 

For promotions into and within the mid-ranks (FS-04 to FS-03, FS-03 to FS-02, and FS-02 to FS-01, pages 5-7), the overall promotion rate in 2019 was 26 percent, up from 24.1 percent in 2018. The 2019 promotion rate from FS-02 to FS-01 was 10.1 percent, slightly higher than the 2018 rate of 9.6 percent. From 2018 to 2019, the total number of promotions from FS-02 to FS-01 increased from 135 to 148, more consistent with the five-year average of 149 total promotions. From the FS-03 level to the FS-02 level, the 2019 promotion rate was 18.0 percent, virtually the same as the 2018 rate of 18.2 percent. The total number of promotions from FS-03 to FS-02 increased from 213 in 2018 to 235 in 2019, above the five-year average of 232 total promotions. The promotion rate from FS-04 to FS-03 was 43.3 percent in 2019, much higher than the 2018 rate of 36.9 percent.

Highlights: Foreign Service Specialists

In 2019, the Foreign Service (FS) Specialist promotion rate was 15.4 percent, above both the 2018 rate of 13.4 percent and the five-year average of 14.8 percent. The total number of FS Specialists promoted was 564, much higher than the five-year average of 539 promotions. Promotions to the FE-OC are above 2015 and 2016 promotion levels. The 2019 promotion rate for FS-01 to FE-OC was 20.6 percent, which is above the 2018 promotion rate of 17.6 percent and above the five-year average of 16.2 percent. 

Figure 3:

Most FS Specialist groups had higher promotion rates (pages 8-14) in 2019 than in 2018. The information technology manager and the medical specialty skill groups highlight these gains. The promotion rate for information technology managers increased from 16.1 percent in 2018, to 32.1 percent in 2019, which is also higher than the five-year average of 14.9 percent. Additionally, the promotion rates for medical officers, medical providers, medical laboratory scientists, and psychiatrists increased from 23.4 percent in 2018, to 28.1 percent in 2019, significantly higher than the five-year average of 22.9 percent.

As part of the DG’s initiative to provide greater transparency, OTA has published promotion statistics online. The 2019 promotion results are stratified by gender, ethnicity, and race, along with detailed breakouts by grade level for each FS Generalist and FS Specialist skill group. For questions about promotion statistics, please contact GTM/OTA by visiting this website.

Frank Garcia and Francisco Trigo are talent analytics officers in the Bureau of Global Talent Management’s Office of Organization and Talent Analytics.

Previous articleJune 2020 | Digital Archive
Next articleKeeping sensitive products secure during pandemic