The Life of an Economic Officer

The following is an excerpt from the blog, Beau Geste, Mon Ami. Larry is an Economic Officer currently on post in Rome.  His interesting take in this post on the art of cable writing is a great introduction into the life of an Economic Officer in the Foreign Service.  Take some time to read through his blog, it’s worth the time!F1030018

In Rome I am an Economic Officer. Economic Officers and Political Officers are known as ‘reporting’ officers and that pretty much describes the job we do. We each have assigned areas of responsibility that we study, research and then report on back to Washington. These areas are called our portfolios and we are expected to become the local experts on the various topics in them. We are also required to interact with our appropriate counterparts in the Italian government on these topics. Therefore, a big part of the job is developing our contacts in the various Italian ministries. I, for example, now have contacts in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Economics & Finance and the Ministry for Economic Development. Diplomacy, it turns out, is both hierarchical and rank observant which goes a long way towards explaining why Prime Minister Berlusconi hasn’t returned my calls requesting a status update on Italy’s aid to developing nations program.

Of course you realize that I never actually placed a call to Berlusconi; unfortunately however, I did attempt to establish Franco Frattini as one of my contacts. This would have been akin to having the guy who mows the lawn at the Italian Embassy in Washington establish Hillary Clinton as his contact on the proper use of Spring fertilizer. As my boss put it when he discovered that I was looking for Frattini’s number, “You’re kidding, right? You’re kidding, right? No, really, you’re kidding, right!” Umhhh, yeah, I was just kidding. Diplomacy is not actually saying the word “idiot” but having all parties involved fully understand that it was said. In my defense, Frattini is Italy’s Foreign Minister and he is responsible for Italy’s aid program so it seemed to me that he’d have the most up to date information.

My workload evolves something like this: someone in Washington becomes interested, curious or concerned about some aspect of Italian policy on a topic in my portfolio and ‘tasks’ me with either getting information from or delivering a message to an appropriate contact. Often I am called upon to request the Government of Italy to support a position we’ve taken or intend to take in our own foreign policy. Official communications of this nature between governments are known as demarches and I’ve done a ton of them. For example, we are encouraging our European allies to increase their aid to Somalia and because Italy’s aid to developing nations is part of my portfolio, I am tasked with bringing our request to rank appropriate contacts in the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Economic Development. After a few days have passed, I go back to my contacts for their response, reaction or reply to our request. Then I draft a cable with that response and send it to Washington. Washington sends me a brief note of thanks and then arranges a dinner in my honor for having helped save Somalia.

CIMG7077Okay, so the whole ‘dinner in my honor’ thing is an exaggeration, as is the ‘brief note of thanks’ and, in fact, as is the ’send it to Washington’ bit too. The literal truth part ends at ‘draft a cable’. Then my cable goes into the clearance process, followed by the re-writing process, followed by additional clearance processes repeated as required, followed by the approval process and then, finally, by the sending to Washington process. We call this ‘feeding the beast’ and ever since George Keenan wrote his Long Telegram in 1946, our reporting cables have been held to an unachievably high standard. Strangely enough they must be factual, concise and accurate. Paradoxically, they must also be intelligent and informative. I tend to ramble, offer mutually exclusive explanations, digress into cul de sacs of misinterpretation and summarize by missing the point entirely. Cable writing, State Department style, is an art form I’m struggling to master.

14 Comments

  1. Kimberly says:

    This is such a great website. I’ve been spending the last couple of days reading over everything, and I think I want to switch from management to econ! I want to get in to the FS so bad, so my strategy was to choose a track that would be easier to get in to. I think that may be a mistake now, I should be choosing the track that best fits what I would like to be doing.

    Rom would be such an amazing place to live. So exciting!

  2. Jason says:

    From what I’ve heard, USAid and the Commerce Dept. have taken a lot of the responsibilities of the Economic posts in most U.S. Embassies… I’ve heard many Economic Officers do many posts in other cones during their career.

  3. Rose says:

    Kudos to Larry, for one to go from a safe environment as the States to other countries is wonderful. It is nice to see someone who most likely under great pressure also have a good sense of humor. Thanks

  4. Michelle says:

    Good afternoon,

    First, I’d like to say “Happy Thanksgiving”. I came across your website in my pursuit on learning about the foreign service officer economics track. I graduated from Boston University with a dual degree in Economics and International Relations in 2012. Since then I have been working but have maintained a keen desire in economics and recently decided to pursue becoming a fso. I was just wondering at the level of difficulty getting into this profession. Do you have any hints on how to be more competitive?

    Thank you and again have a Happy Thanksgiving!

    Sincerely,
    Michelle Choi

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    • Jacob says:

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    • Merita says:

      شبیه گاندی شده!Your political coamspsEconomic Left/Right: -6.00Social Libertarian/Authoritarian:-3.18خداییش همت کردم تا آخرش رفتمدو سه تا سوال هم دقیق نفهمیدم چی چی خواسته.

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    • I see, I suppose that would have to be the case.

    • That hits the target dead center! Great answer!

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