Second Tour Bidding

Although I’m still over a month away from arriving in Pakistan, the time has come for bidding the follow-on post. Because this next assignment will technically be my second tour (the year in Pakistan is taking the place of what was supposed to be the second year in Ottawa), I am going through what’s called directed bidding.  For the last time in my career, we have the opportunity to peruse through a long list of open assignments, compile a list in order of preference, and leave it up to the gods, aka the Career Development Officers, to sort out.

Of the 150 or so assignments, including jobs in every category located in six continents, I put together a sub-list of 30 that fit our timing. This was actually a little more complicated than it sounds. I started with the expected departure date from Pakistan.  I scratched any job targeted to start before Spring 2012.  I then scratched every job that did not require foreign language fluency. Some of those were brutal to line out, but I have to satisfy the language proficiency for tenure.

I then added the month or so of mandatory home leave — time Congress mandates that I spend decompressing from my prior two years abroad.  I then needed to figure out what training is required for each job I wanted to bid.  Public affairs job in Bishkek, Kyrgystan? Factor in 8 months for Russian language fluency and a month and a half for public diplomacy tradecraft. Scratch a bunch more jobs that start too early or too late for the requisite training.

Amazingly, when the smoke cleared, we had a list of 30 that more or less fit. E and I then spent several days passing it back in forth to get the preference order right, finalizing the order together in the tea room at the Mandarin-Oriental looking out over the Vegas strip. We knew we’d have a good shot at one of our top 10 picks because State provides so-called equity points points for serving in hardship posts, additional equity for serving in high-danger posts, and yet more equity for serving in hard-to-fill jobs. Volunteering to spend a year in Lahore comes close to maxing out all three.

In the end, we had a pretty clear first choice pick, but the timing didn’t work out precisely. We are allowed to include on the list a maximum of eight jobs that don’t fit exactly, but are within a 90-day window. We are told up front, however, that while we can include these so-called “imperfect bids,” it is highly unlikely that we’ll get one.  Unfortunately, we had a pretty big gap — ok, a chasm, really — between our imperfect top choice and everything else. We filed our final list over a week ago and since that time have focused on being happy with what we expected to get: either a political job in Algiers, Algeria, or a political job in Kiev, Ukraine. Both would be interesting jobs and require us to learn a language that was at the top of our priority list.

We thought for sure the decision would come by end of day last Friday. The week-end arrived with no word.  Monday came and went with nothing.

After lunch today, my email preview popped with just the subject line: “Your Onward Assignment” and the first line of the contents that just read “Congratulations”.  I got the same “Congratulations” intro when I received my assignment to Pakistan, so I knew that had no bearing on where we were going.  After a suitably dramatic pause, I opened the email to find we had been assigned our first pick: Paris.

After I’m back from Lahore in the Spring 2012, we’ll have our month of home leave, and then jump into a very intensive five to six months of full-time, French language training. Four years of college French will get one to about a 2/2 on the spoken/written Foreign Service scale. The job requires that I arrive in the Fall of 2012 with a 3/3, so I’ve got my work cut out for me. Thankfully, E will likely be able to go through the class with me and she’s a language whiz. As for the job, I won’t be working in the Embassy. Instead, I’ll be joining the U.S. delegation to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).  The OECD has an incredibly broad mandate so I have no idea what my portfolio will include, but they get involved in a lot of very interesting issues. We couldn’t be happier.

The adventure continues.

First Post

Flag day did not disappoint. We’ve been told over and over to expect the unexpected and to avoid focusing on a few posts. I had quite a few posts labeled as high but was really focused on Africa. I heard the post announced, and then heard my name, but it took a second or two to put the two together and stand up to collect my flag and training schedule. It was not in my top 10 of expected postings as it was a late addition to the bid list.

Ottawa, Canada

It’s not as exotic as Accra, Ghana, or Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, but it will work great for a first post. Easy to get to from California. Easy to tour colleges on the East Coast with my daughter. Great food and internet access for video chats with the family. All in all, it could have been a lot worse.

After heading to the bar tonight to join my classmates (most of whom seem very happy with their posts), it’s time to start planning. It looks like I’m scheduled to start in February. I’m getting a little chilly just thinking about it.