Dreams of A Diplomat: Pursuing the Foreign Service Facility Manager Position

by Juan Thomas
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“If at first you don’t succeed, then dust yourself off and try again” – Aaliyah

In the debut post of this blog, I noted that there would be different series of mandatory posts. One of those such series covers a very specific job I’m coveting. This is the first post in that series, which will be known as “Dreams of a Diplomat”.

Last week, I applied, via USAJobs, for the Foreign Service Facility Manager vacancy at the U.S. Department of State. When I pressed “Submit” on last Tuesday, it was the end of an 11-day process of navigating through the application. Between the eligibility questions, the vacancy-specific questions, and the supplementary questionnaire, it was quite the cumbersome task in completing the application. Of course, this position is of very special interest to me so I was very thorough and extremely careful in how I went about applying. The announcement closed out last Wednesday and with most of the Federal Government in holiday mode, I’m not expecting notification from the State Department’s HR office until at least the middle of next month. Hopefully, the application I submitted this year will fare better than the one I submitted 13 months ago. Anyway, allow me to introduce what this job is all about…

As part of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations, Foreign Service Facility Managers—also known as FSFMs—manage the Department’s real property assets abroad…namely, the embassies and consulates. They are tasked with making sure the properties are maintained in a safe and operable condition within widely accepted U.S. standards. FSFMs are part of the Management team at their respective diplomatic posts, working under the direction of a Management Counselor or Management Officer. FSFMs generally command the largest staff at an embassy or consulate and are considered to be the foremost authority on all facility operations. If I had to put it in a simple context, I’d use my experience in various Air Force Civil Engineer Squadrons: Foreign Service Facility Managers are the equivalent of Base Civil Engineers, responsible for the management and oversight of all U.S. Government-owned and leased properties in a specific portfolio. The difference is that instead of a military officer position, it’s a diplomatic specialist position.

For me, the Foreign Service Facility Manager position is my “dream job”. As far as I’m concerned, only the Facilities Manager position at the White House is a better job within the entirety of the Federal Government…military and civilian. I have no aspirations for working at the White House or returning to Washington, DC so the FSFM position is the top of the heap for me. I first discovered the position’s existence when I attended the IFMA Facility Fusion Conference & Expo in Chicago last year. I had a very enlightening conversation with a recruiter for the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations and I was sold on the position. In fact, I was so fascinated by the position and the prestige of being an American diplomat that I boldly declared in a May 2012 entry of my journal that I would stop at nothing to be a Foreign Service Facility Manager.

I alluded, at the outset, that this is my 2nd time applying for the position. In November 2012, while serving in my what turned out to my final assignment in my military career, I applied for the Foreign Service Facility Manager position. I felt that I met all of the requirements: (1) I was a United States citizen, (2) I was between 20 and 59 years old, (3) I was worldwide available, (4) I had a Top Secret security clearance, (5) I had a college degree and 3 years of specialized experience. I felt it was the perfect transition from a 10-year run as an Air Force Civil Engineering Operations Manager into a civilian career…and it still allowed me to continue upon my niche for national service. As I was a Facility Operations Manager in a Top Secret military facility, I consulted with the Senior Facility Manager about his opinion on the job and he said that it would be perfect for me. He told me that he would do everything he could in the year I was in South Korea to prepare me for it. My applying for the position was my first experience with USAJobs. While I’m well-versed in applying for Federal jobs via that medium now, I was extremely green in the Fall of 2012. I filled out the eligibility and vacancy-specific questions on the application. I also filled out the supplementary questionnaire, which was a series of essay questions. There were some required documents needed—college transcripts, certifications, veterans preference documents, personnel action forms—and I wasn’t prepared for that. I submitted what I had available to me and hoped for the best. Two weeks later, I received an email from the HR team from the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations informing me that I was ineligible for the position because I didn’t submit the required documentation. Furthermore, they informed me that I had to wait a full calendar year before applying.

I was disappointed. That basically meant that I wouldn’t be starting my dream job right out of the gate. I still pushed along with my plan for separating from the Air Force, which I did this past July. After applying for 38 different Federal facility manager positions, I finally scored my 1st Federal civil service job as a Facility Operations Specialist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in June. I started in July and that’s where I am now. And while this job with USACE is more than I expected—a GS-11 position with my office in very affordable Opelika, Alabama—I’m always looking towards the future. The FSFM vacancy popped up in my alerts last month and this time around, I had all of the documents ready to go. The 1-year moratorium period on me applying expired on November 13th so I’m free and clear there. This time around, I fully expect to get by the HR screening and to the qualifications evaluation panel. I’d like to think that the 10 years of experience in facilities management during my Air Force career is enough to make me a Foreign Service Facility Manager but if it’s not, then I’ll wait another year and do what I have to do to get better.

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