Monday, November 22, 2010

The world of the foreign security clearance adjudications

I am in that no-man's land in the FSO-hopeful life called adjudications. This is what that means and why I am (gently) bitter about it. After a person completes the numerous exams/hurdles and fills in piles of paper describing every minutia of her life in the past 10 years, she receives a conditional offer to join the United States Foreign Service. Yupee!
Not so fast. Several potentially daunting stages separate the not-yet-FSO from the coveted job, some of which are related to that mysterious and rather expensive process called "security clearance." As Elmo says, "Oh boy!" It is done by intimidating FBI investigators and starts with a huge questionnaire which asks various crucial details from your life like the professions of your grandparents, frequency of contact with any of your non-US "relations" as well as whether you have every tried to overthrow the US government or smoked pot.

Once you fill in the important information, a deft team of investigators begins to dig in your past. And make no mistake, they do dig. They call all the contacts you have listed, visit your former jobs (without warning anyone), run title searches, check your taxes, liens against you, credit card histories, your addresses, schools, you name it. There are no secrets to the determined "special investigators." More power to them. Someone also comes to interview the nervous FSO candidate and ask inane questions about her life.

This very important process takes about 2 weeks or so. Then the file goes to ... who knows. Someone important, I presume. Who decides whether the candidate is worthy or needs more probing. You are even given a so-called "target date for completion of the security clearance," which is exactly 3 months after its start. That target date means squat. I suspect the idea behind setting such a date is to have a ready answer for the anxious FSO wannabe when she calls every week the "security clearance customer service line" (I wonder if it is outsourced to India....??). Once the date passes and you are not yet cleared, you have clearly entered the so-called "adjudications." Whatever that means. And however long it takes. No one knows. I keep imagining that a team of omnipotent, very wise people gather every day to adjudicate. They pour over the information gathered by the mighty FBI investigators and pontificate. Then, unable to reach a final decision, they adjourn to again adjudicate the next day. In the meantime, the frustrated and enervated candidate sits at home, sends futile emails to the customer service and tries tor ead coffee beans.
You'd think that once you exit adjudications, you are officially cleared. But wait, there is more! Then you go into what they call "final suitability review." Whoa! That is awesome. Not so much. Again, not exactly clear who does that. Another omnipotent governmental body, I suppose. I wonder if they also pontificate daily, like the Supreme Court.
At any rate, one sunny, nice day, after you have just finished lunch and are feeling generally rather pleasantly predisposed towards the world and the notion of paying taxes, your security clearance is over and you are free to serve in the Foreign Service. No one tells you that, however. Unless you ask. So much fun.
So, do you think now that the FSO hopeful has top security clearance, she can freely join the Foreign Service? Of course not! Right then and there, she is placed on a very important list called "the Register." In some other future post, I will tell you all about THAT roller-coaster ride.

So, I am currently in the stage of adjudication. I suppose the fact that I have a dual citizenship and a pile of foreign relatives is not helping much. It definitely is playing a role since one of my friends, who was interviewed by the sharp FBI minds, told me that the investigator looked her straight in the eye and quietly asked her if she was aware that I was originally from Bulgaria. Trying not to burst into laughter, she confirmed that yes, indeed, she was aware of that. Oh well, once there is some movement on the security clearance front, I will inform you promptly.

My sister in law and her family, which includes two twin girls aged 7, are flying in tonight from California to visit us for the holidays. They are all quite smitten by Son (can you blame them??) and have insisted on taking him off our hands for the next one week. God bless them!


  1. Hi,
    I happened upon your blog and I am considering Foreign Service and was wondering if you could give me a little insight into the life of Foreign Service, some prerequisites that I might need and I should proceed (any tips and what I should now).

    Any help or suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks,


  2. I feel sad that you have to undergo this agony, but that is the price one pays for joining a federal service;it can provide an assured career, and normal pay but again an assured and secured one, has a machinery to take care of family needs, and so many invisible perquisites, not but the least the honor of sovereign service. I worked for a private company almost like a second to the CEO, but I only knew my uncetainity of retention of job for the following day. After alomost 5 years and not willing to undergo that tension anymore, i joined the central bank of the country, though may not be great by cash flow, but gave me the satisfaction that i was serving a invisible employer's (country with growing but never changing bureucratic system) needs, and not an individual's whims and fancies. Actually after superannuating from RBI, I am again with a private bank, once more living upto the vagaries of a private individual who has been so far very nice time. I am not defending the govt systems; while the individual waiting for clearances is on one side, other side is a system of investigators set up with a fixed manpower resources and abilities to deal with the uneven flow of references. You may not know, I waited 6 months before I was given the order of appointmnet in RBI, due to the process of such verifications. But once u joing their pack, u don't have to worry about the future; to perform the best or the least is totally in your hands, and u can always find reasons and excuses for everything. The best performer gets the hardest and prestigious tasks/postings like I had and eventually that gets you into a list of people who are always in demand by others even after they leave the federal service.
    I am sure this is only a passing phase and I pray your waiting would come to an end soon and till then enjoy Bengali and the NOs of my grandson!

  3. Appa, thanks for the perspective! I know that, and yet it remains frustrating--I am SO close to picking the fruit of my efforts, which began long before I took the exams but when I put the idea into the Diplomat's head three years ago. Oh well, Bengali it is for now...

  4. I have a feeling I may end up there too. LOL! I took a over a month for my security clearance to even start...finally they are starting to talk to people. Thanks for this post..I know I am not alone!

  5. Hello,

    I ran across your blog while doing some career searches for my son who is 17 and expressing interest in different areas and we are trying to combine his talents and interest to see what some fields out there compare. There is a site the high school offers called Career Cruising and kids and enter in their likes, skills and abilities and it matches up with their interests and skills. He was a good match for an FSO. He loves government and politics. Yet he doesn't want to be a politician. I am glad! He loves history and it comes so natural yet he doesn't want to teach even though he loves to share his knowledge, is so outgoing and talks to any adult, pluse he is blessed with skills to work with kids. He was the most requested swim instructor by all the parents at his first job this summer and he came home with numerous thank yous, photos, drawings and gift certificates to McDonald's from parents. When they went to register their kid again for the next session, they requested my son. He is a natural. He is sports oriented and has played select and school sports as long as I can remember. He has been scouted by a few colleges like Notre Dame. He loves to teach, train, educate. He likes to help, take care of others, and solve problems. So this fits him very well. So what should he major in? Is it more beneficial to have a History Degree or Internal Relations and Affairs? And it appears that you need to get out and work a few years in your field before applying to the FSO. So working in a history field can be hard unless you are a teacher. Thoughts?

  6. To Anonymous:
    With the caveat that I do not consider myself in any way an authority what should be studied to be a FSO, this is what I think. Whether he stidies HIstory or IR or PoliSci, ir irrelevant to a large extent if he wants to work in the international relations worlds--all of these study fields will inevitably incorporate elements of each other. It is a matter what he enjoys more. His subsequent employment in such a field also can be ensured with any of those degrees. I personally would study Economics, with a possible minor in history if that appeals to him. Economics is an incredibly interesting subject that will give him better employment opportunities, I think. finally, variety of experience is what makes a good FSO candidate, not a groomed future diplomat, with the exact right diploma and work experience. So, I think asking him to choose what he enjoys most will ensure he gets best grades (always important!). Good luck whatever you guys choose!

  7. Hi did you have to give up your foreign passport before you officially become an FSO?

  8. Hi! I like your blog, you are so sarcastic and funny. Ones question, did your husband had to go through adjudications because of your dual citizenship? My husband just passed the OA and I'm also a dual citizen -born and raised overseas- so we were wondering what is in store for us. He is a Air Force Officer and already holds a security clearance but not a Top. Any thoughts? Thank you.

  9. Christie, no, everyone goes through adjudications. It is just part of the process. A very great number of FSO spouses are foreign, and frankly a heck of a lot of FSO themselves are born overseas and hold or at least at one point have held double citizenship. So, THAT per se does not set you apart.

  10. Thanks! ;)
    Have. Nice day lady!

  11. * have a nice day!

  12. Thanks for the information. I've been searching for security clearance jobs ever since I graduated college and I'm having a hard time finding any jobs in my area. Do you have any tips you could share to help my job search?