Up To the Task of Preparing Our Foreign Affairs Professionals

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Ambassador Dan Smith poses for a photo on the campus of the Foreign Service Institute.
Ambassador Daniel B. Smith poses for a photo on the campus of the Foreign Service Institute alongside a statue of our nation’s first diplomat – Ben Franklin.

Up To the Task of Preparing Our Foreign Affairs Professionals

I’m deeply honored to be named by Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo as the new Director of the Foreign Service Institute. The Foreign Service Institute, “FSI” for short, is responsible for training employees of the State Department and other U.S. Government foreign affairs agencies to represent U.S. interests internationally. As Secretary Pompeo said following his visit to FSI in June, the FSI team has an incredibly important job equipping our Foreign Service, Civil Service, and locally-employed staff with vital knowledge and skills, so that they can deliver maximum diplomatic impact all around the world on behalf of the American people.

In the 71 years since its establishment, FSI has evolved to equip foreign affairs professionals with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes they need to achieve U.S. foreign policy goals in an ever-changing world. FSI focuses on diplomatic mastery and operational excellence, with training in 70+ foreign languages; area studies covering every region of the globe; tradecraft training for the Foreign Service “cones” (i.e., Management, Consular, Political, Public Diplomacy, and Economics); applied information technology; and leadership.  In addition to State Department personnel, FSI trains professionals from over 50 U.S. government agencies and even offers programs for employees’ family members preparing for international transitions.   

Ambassador Daniel B. Smith poses for a photo near a campus map at the Foreign Service Institute in Arlington, Virginia.

Teaching the often intangible skills that foreign affairs professionals require is no simple feat. Therefore, FSI employs experiential learning techniques, immersive and virtual reality technology to help learners practice the unique high-stakes scenarios they may face in all kinds of environments – from the consular window, to the negotiation table, to the TV broadcast studio, to a rural village.

The scope of FSI is indeed broad and it supports over 225,000 annual course enrollments, intended to get our globally deployed workforce the training they need, when and where they need it. That means offering in-person, regional, and online learning options. FSI has nearly 600 classroom courses and 250 online classes. It’s developed 33 custom mobile applications that offer job aids or job-specific vocabulary for positions like visa adjudicators and Diplomatic Security agents. While FSI’s main campus is located in Arlington, Virginia, it also conducts training at an annex in Rosslyn, VA, plus overseas facilities in China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Mexico, and six cities in the Arab world. Moreover, FSI partners with the Department of State’s regional bureaus to deliver training at facilities around the world.

Ambassador Smith and FSI’s Deputy Director Ambassador Julieta Valls Noyes take in the history wall outside of the Office of the Director that depicts photos of previous FSI leadership and information about FSI’s 71 year history.

Since the global landscape and foreign affairs challenges the United States faces are constantly changing, FSI emphasizes continuous improvement to make sure training is meeting the needs of the day. In recent years, this quest for improvement and innovation garnered FSI six different learning industry awards and created opportunities for collaboration and benchmarking with academia, the private sector, and foreign counterparts.

FSI has a proud tradition and a strong record of performance. I look forward to joining the outstanding professionals at FSI and working with them to ensure we provide the best possible support for the State Department’s critical mission to advance our nation’s interests and represent the American people abroad. 

About the Author: Daniel B. Smith is a member of the Senior Foreign Service, holding the rank of Career Ambassador. Prior to his appointment as the Director of the Foreign Service Institute, he was the Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Intelligence and Research.

Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.