A Day in the Life of a Foreign Service Officer
Jonathan Crawford worked as a manager at Accenture from 1999-2004 after graduating from Brigham Young University. After working for Accenture he attended George Washington University’s Elliot School of International Affairs where he received an M.A. in International Affairs. He then started working for the State Department as a Foreign Service Officer in 2006 and has been stationed in Jerusalem, Bangkok, and most recently Shanghai.
Can you give a brief sketch of your career trajectory?
After double majoring in French and management information systems, I worked for an international technology consulting firm for several years. Always interested in working overseas, I requested a transfer to a project in Germany and worked in Cologne and Frankfurt for a year. Two weeks after returning to the United States, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 took place. This prompted me to change career paths and find a way to serve my country. I moved to DC for grad school and attended George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. After graduation I joined the State Department as a Foreign Service Officer (FSO), where I’ve served at our diplomatic posts in Jerusalem, Bangkok and Shanghai. Looking ahead I see myself serving at a variety of posts including Main State and hope to take on additional leadership roles with each assignment.
Can you walk us through a typical day in the life at the State Department?
To give you an idea of my life as a political officer serving at our consulate in Shanghai, these are some of the items on my agenda this week: I’m attending a conference on the state of the LGBT community in China, highlighting firms that are promoting inclusive HR and marketing campaigns; I have a meeting with an official from the Zhejiang provincial government to ask about the province’s 13th five-year development plan; I will write a report on Shanghai scholars’ views of cross-Strait relations and the upcoming elections in Taiwan based on meetings I had with experts from think tanks and Shanghai’s top universities; and I will assist our public affairs section by participating in “basketball diplomacy” with visiting Pac-12 basketball players who we linked up with Special Olympics Shanghai to conduct a skills workshop and friendly match.
How is your specific role important in the functioning of the State Department?
Like most new FSOs I served as a consular officer for my first tour. Consular officers play a crucial role protecting our national security by facilitating legitimate travel to the United States and providing services to American citizens abroad. During my second tour I served in the management section of Embassy Bangkok as a contracting officer and later as an assistant management officer. One of my projects was to help set up a regional joint training center with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to save the government money by hosting training locally for employees from across the East Asia Pacific and South Central Asia regions. Currently, as a reporting officer, my work informs Washington of the dynamic political, social, and economic conditions on the ground in East China (i.e. Shanghai, as well as Zhejiang, Jiangsu, and Anhui provinces).
When you first began working as a Foreign Service Officer, was there anything that you found difficult to adapt to?
The most difficult transition for me was learning to operate in the bureaucracy that is the federal government. After working for a dynamic firm in the private sector, the endless paperwork, approval chains, and regulations seemed to slow everything down, stifling creativity and hampering decision making. But after a while I learned to navigate the processes and paper flows that push forward the cogs in the wheel. The benefits of representing America doing meaningful work far outweigh the inconveniences and inefficiencies that are built into keeping the system fair and transparent.
What are some of the biggest differences between working in the State Department and working in the private sector?
Providing a public good like national security versus providing a service or product demanded by the market leads to a vastly different operating environment. Firms have to focus on profits/loss and act accordingly. During positive business cycles the jobs are plentiful and the money is great; however, economic downturns often result in layoffs. Public service is driven by operational mission and congressional mandate. Besides the cyclical nature of changing administrations and government priorities, working for the federal government tends to be very stable, albeit at lower wages than the private sector. In my experience the level of professionalism and commitment among coworkers in both environments has been excellent.
Is there anything you miss about working in the private sector?
Working in the private sector as a consultant right out of college provided a lot of valuable experiences and exposure to industries ranging from banking, retail, biotech, energy, and government. The exciting pace of work, travel perks, and pay were also rewarding. I do miss the agile decision making and the way the private sector can just get things done.
The views expressed are the individual’s own, and do not necessarily reflect State Department policy.