When it rains, it pours.

After today’s phone call with news that I was granted a security clearance, in today’s mail was an official letter from the State Department that I have been added to the Registry. That means that in just a few days, I passed through the Final Suitability Review.

WIth my bonus points from the telephone Chinese test, my score puts me somewhere in the middle of the list. In order to have a realistic chance of receiving an official offer, I need to boost my score higher. The only ways to get bonus points are to be a veteran or to get additional language points. Since I am not a veteran, I will be traveling to Washington, D.C. and taking a two-hour reading, speaking and listening test at the Foreign Service Training Center. I hope to do that some time in June.

Woot woot! says the happy man! I’m on the Registry!!



Big step forward

My security clearance was granted on May 29. This was the step that required the 7-hour interview with an investigator, a “plethora” of investigators digging into my past, and “adjudication” to evaluate the information that the investigators uncovered. The clearance means that I can be granted a top-secret security clearance, which is an essential prerequisite to being a Foreign Service Officer.

There is still another step before I can be put onto the register: the Final Suitability Review. In this step, yet another panel looks at all my information, and answers the question: is this person suitable for the Foreign Service? That step can take hours or months.

As with every step in the process, my candidacy could end at this stage. A possibility is that the panel decides that I am not suitable. I read one candidate’s report that he applied three times (which means he went through the whole process of the written test, oral assessment, and security clearance three times), only to be denied at the suitability review stage each time. After the third denial, he finally decided to give up his dream and move on.

You have to really want it. Or be really lucky. I think the latter applies to me. So far.

Stay tuned…


Holy cow that language test was!

I just took the telephone Chinese test. I can’t give too many details about the test, because I am under a Non-Disclosure Agreement. The test was all speaking and listening, which is not surprising, since it was a telephone test. The interviewer was a Mainlander, so it’s a good thing that I’ve been listening to CCTV news from China. The interviewer’s accent didn’t confuse me.

The topic of conversation was at a high level, focusing on current events in the US and China. I think that I held my own in the conversation, asking questions and giving my opinions.

There was also an interview portion, where I had to ask questions in Chinese, then report back the contents of the interview in English. That part was a little easier for me. My court interpreting experience was very valuable in that task.

I think that I did well on the test. I could have done better, but I was a little nervous at first.

The whole thing took less than 20 minutes. The next step is to grade the test. Another rater will listen to the recording of the test. They will then send my score to the Board of Examiners, who will give me the results. How long will that take? If you have to ask, you haven’t learned anything from my experience in applying to the Foreign Service…

P.S. The title of this blog post isn’t a typo, it’s a family joke.

Medical Clearances Completed

Stacy’s medical clearance came through. The boys and I were cleared weeks ago, but Stacy has a more interesting medical history, so she needed some additional tests. We thought that the red flag would be Tuberculosis, but it was Hepatitis that the State Department’s medical clearance office was concerned about.

Stacy reported that she was a carrier of Hepatitis B, based on what someone told her when she tried to donate blood back in college. State wanted her to get a blood test, and asked our doctor to give a report of the “viral load and treatment recommendations” for her hepatitis.

Surprisingly, the test came back negative. She isn’t a Hep B carrier after all.

Within a week of sending that report in, she was granted a world-side clearance. She can accompany my to any post anywhere in the world. Hooray!

All of this testing was not done for free. State’s policy is to have candidates bill their insurance company, and submit bills for anything that isn’t covered by insurance. Not surprisingly, quite a bit of the blood tests were not covered by our regular health insurance. I wanted to wait until all the clearances were granted, and all the charges made, before I submitted the bills to the government. Now that we have all our clearances, I can do that.

My next step is to figure out how to submit the bills. Stacy has done her usual amazing job of keeping track of all the bills and statements from the doctor’s office and insurance company. The State Department seems to be very competent and experienced in handling these medical bills, so I’m confident that they will be able to sort everything out correctly, but dealing with paperwork is always time-consuming.

In Adjudication

The security background check has entered the phase known as “adjudication.” The plethora of investigators has submitted its collective information to the office of Diplomatic Security, and now an adjudicator is evaluating the information that has been gathered about me.

At this point, my case can go in one of three directions. The first possibility, and the outcome that I am hoping for, is that the adjudicator could decide that I am eligible for a top secret security clearance, and will pass my case on to the Final Review Board. The second possibility is that the adjudicator could determine, based on the investigation, that I am a security risk. That would end my candidacy for the Foreign Service.

The third possibility is that the adjudicator could decide that more information is needed, and dispatch investigators to gather it. That would start another loop of investigation and report back to the adjudicator.

The adjudication phase is an infamous black box. Some candidates are in adjudication for 24 hours, some languish for 15 months. The process is opaque. If your adjudication is taking a long time, you can not know the reason. There is a phone number that you can call to ask the status, but all that you will be told is that your application is still in adjudication. This phase is frustrating for a lot of FS candidates, because, I think, many candidates have Type-A personalities, and want to be in control of their lives. While in adjudication, you can’t facilitate the process, and you have zero control over the outcome.

I am choosing to take a more Zen attitude toward the process, and am focusing on things that I can control, like self-mutilation and eating disorders. Just kidding. I’m enjoying the arrival of spring by running outside instead of going to the gym, and am dieting to try to lose a few pounds.

The Department of State takes this background check very seriously because Foreign Service officers need to have a top secret security clearance. It makes sense that the government has to trust the people who have access to sensitive material.

Thanks to everyone who was interviewed by Diplomatic Security. I appreciate you taking time to talk with the investigator and put in some good words for me.

Language test #1 scheduled

My telephone-based language test has been scheduled for May 13. If I pass, I will earn .17 points. That seems like a small payoff, but if I were on the Register, with my “raw” score from the Oral Assessment, I would be in the lower third of the list. People at that position often never receive a job offer. This language bonus would bump me up from the lower third to the upper third of the list, with a better chance of getting an offer.

This test only scores for level 2 of the proficiency scale. If I pass this test, then I will be eligible to go to Washington DC and take an in-person reading and speaking test, which tests for higher levels. If I score at level 3 on that test, then I will get an additional .25 points. That bonus would put me into the top 10 of the Registry list, and would probably ensure that I would get “the call” for the next round of hires.

But I first have to pass this test. I’m not too concerned about performing well on the test, because I’ve been a Mandarin speaker for over half my life. However, I’ve never had my Chinese language skills formally assessed. I don’t have doubts about my language ability, but because the stakes are so high, I have a little test anxiety.

“Plethora” of investigators

I was wondering about the status of my security clearance, so I called the Security Clearance Support Help Desk at the State Department (yes, that is a thing). I got voice mail, so I left a message, and wasn’t expecting to get a return phone call, because, you know, it’s the government. Well, at 7:00 this evening, they called me back, surprise surprise!

The status is that the background investigation is still ongoing. I said that the investigator who interviewed me (for seven hours) had submitted his report. Yes, was the answer, but there is a “plethora of investigators on your case” (direct quote).

His use of the word “plethora” struck me as unusual. Why would he use that word? How many more than “several” is a plethora? Now I am in paranoia mode. I am imagining a dimly-lit, smoky back room crowded with overweight, middle-aged men pouring over my past tax returns, blog posts, love letters, airplane tickets, and hotel receipts, looking for evidence of unpatriotic or suspicious behavior. “A-ha!” one yells triumphantly, waving a receipt from a scooter rental agency in Victoria, British Columbia. “He didn’t rent a helmet! Communist!”

Medical Clearance update

I just received notice that Ian’s and Evan’s medical clearances came through. Stacy’s hasn’t come through yet, possibly because of a small complication with her medical exam. He has a long-standing health issue related to her having grown up in another country. Our family doctor says that it isn’t a problem, but I’m not surprised that the staff in the State Department’s medical office will scratch their heads over it for a few minutes.

I sent Evan’s information in on March 24th. One week to clearance. That’s pretty speedy, by US Government standards, and much faster than I had thought it would be.


The security check continues

I ran into a neighbor at the gym today. She said that our Diplomatic Security investigator contacted her. That was a little curious, because although I had given him a list of all the people who live on our street, I didn’t specifically tell him that she would be a good contact. It seems that he wants to get contacts from contacts. We give him a name, and he asks that person to give him another name. Maybe the idea is that this is a way to get unrehearsed or unprepared responses from people.