on July 30, 2013 @ 12:49 pm
Thank you for this thoughtful and important article, which I hope will be widely read.
on July 31, 2013 @ 3:33 am
The CLO's primary duty is inherent in the title, to serve as an in-house liaison with families of mission employees and overall morale. Depending on the mission, the job can take a number of forms, including facilitating activities outside the immediate diplomatic community that might otherwise not be readily accessible to most family members. But the most important function is to help strengthen community morale, and communicate any such concerns directly to the embassy leadership. No one has an ear closer to the heartbeat of the community than the CLO.
I appreciate your raising a possible PD dimension with respect to the CLO's role in organizing outside activities. In my experience, most CLOs rely on community volunteers, including local staff, to set these events up. CLO fluency in the local language can indeed help, as you point out, but are and should not be mandatory. If there are PD issues that intersect with the CLO, an experienced Deputy Chief of Mission (often the CLO’s supervisor) and Public Affairs Officer will be quick to the mark in Country Team, of which the CLO is member, or elsewhere. As a veteran PAO and former DCM, I have seen this system work well, though as in all things human and bureaucratic, flaws exist.
In any case, the central community morale duty of the position remains as important as ever. The single most important skill is empathy, the key to effective counseling, event planning, and advocacy. Empathy also can mean relating to those trying to adapt to a foreign country without speaking the language, as is usually the case with the large majority of Americans. It is vital, however, that the CLO be an Eligible Family Member (EFM), who by definition comes from the small U.S. diplomatic community at a post, and who has a demonstrated ability to empathize with American families and individuals undergoing the pressures of transition to life overseas..
on July 31, 2013 @ 9:09 am
I would just like to point out that the CLO serves all American employees & their families, and not just the FSOs. A common error by those not well informed about the US Foreign Service including many FSOs.
on July 31, 2013 @ 9:20 am
In my opinion Mr. Garland's comments are spot on. In the 1990's my wife served twice as CLO, once in Central Asia, where she didn't speak the language and once in Brazil, where she did. She did an excellent job in both places, largely because of her empathy for family members and her proactive involvement in helping them to adjust successfully to life in the two countries. Because she was interacting primarily with American family members and could count on other Embassy resources whenever she needed their help, language-wise or otherwise, use of the language of each country was really not an important consideration for the two CLO positions. Also, in Central Asia, if she had needed to speak the two languages in use at the time, it would have taken at least a minimum of 3 years to reach a minimally acceptable level of competence to function in the two languages.
on July 31, 2013 @ 4:55 pm
What about sequestration? The USG is experiencing drastic budgets drastically cut around the world! It is hard to believe that embassies have local staff resources to provide CLOs whenever they need it. From my understanding, CLOs must provide advice "for on-post and off-post activities and services" to embassy staff and their families. If that’s true, I don't see why it is unreasonable to require CLOs to speak the local language. Am I missing something? If the diplomat can become proficient in the language prior to moving to their assignment, the spouse can as well. What we shouldn't have is double standards for embassy staff and embassy staff who happen to be spouses. The USG has limited resources and our government needs to expend them according to highest ROI. A private company certainly wouldn't hire someone to manage family services for expatriate employees who can’t speak the local language. So, why should the USG? More importantly, does the USG have the right metrics in place to evaluate morale? I imagine that diplomatic families (like any other expatriates) will be happiest living abroad if they localize as quickly as possible. Providing services that encourage them to live inside the embassy is not going to help post morale. And, as pointed out above, it does nothing to advance U.S. diplomacy. Diplomatic families are well compensated for living abroad. In exchange, they need to serve as the best possible citizen ambassadors for their country. This means that they need to become part of the local community. The CLO needs to set that example and show families how to do this. If the CLO doesn't speak the language, it sends the message to the rest of the embassy that speaking English abroad is OK. It isn't!
on July 31, 2013 @ 5:49 pm
First, I'm not sure how someone would know about the CLO position unless they were a family member (or a federal employee assigned overseas) but it does raise an interesting point. Most CLOs I've seen have known the language since they joined their spouse/partner in language training. It is most useful while on field excursions or negotiating with vendors. However, I think rather than using more money on the CLOs to ensure language training, more money should be spent on the Foreign Service Specialists who are direct-hire, career professionals (and not temporary family member hires). Many times the Office Management Specialist who is committed to working anywhere overseas actually makes less than a CLO and the OMS quite often don’t get language training. All-in-all, the CLOs are indeed valuable morale boosters both for the American employees but even more for the spouses/partners and family members who must move from place-to-place and who are in an unfamiliar country.
on July 31, 2013 @ 8:13 pm
I also agree with Mr. Garland's comments. While it is always beneficial to speak the local language, and certainly helpful in the CLO position, it should not be mandatory. In addition to a misplaced focus on the outreach aspect of the CLO position, which is important but secondary to advocating for families at post, this article does not address a crucial financial point: how to afford the language training. FSO's get paid while they are in language training. While spouses from DOS (not other agencies) may have the opportunity to take classes at FSI on a space-permitting basis, they do not get paid to do so, even if they have already been hired for a job at post (for example, a 6 week Consular course to be a Consular Associate). In the current budget environment, I don't see this changing any time soon, unfortunately. Taking unpaid training may be feasible for shorter courses, but can often pose challenges for a 6 or 10 month language program, especially if the direct-hire employee is coming from Washington, for example, and is not on per diem, or due to child care and other considerations. Spouse employment is a huge morale issue at most posts, and I don't think that any steps should be taken that would result in limiting EFM employment opportunties. It is essential that the CLO him/herself should be a family member. While I applaud CLO's who make every attempt to learn the language, including weekly language classes that many embassies offer their staff, we cannot expect fluency. At my previous two posts, there was no local assistant in the CLO office, but that doesn't mean CLO's can't ask local staff in other parts of the embassy for assistance. The local staff are an amazing resource for information about the city and a good CLO will reach out and ask.
on July 31, 2013 @ 9:14 pm
I also agree with Mr. Garland and I must say I'm curious as to how the training will be provided. Will it be paid? Many EFMs are either working other jobs or have families to take care of during the day. Putting one child (or several)into daycare to spend anywhere from 6 months to a year is not a reasonable option, especially in the DC Metro area. Also important is that language training is available for EFMs IF space is available.
Moreover, what about an EFM who is accompanying an employee on a UT? The employee may not require language and minus a week of area studies, could feasibly go from one overseas post to the UT in a month or two. Is the EFM supposed to leave the previous post a year early to learn, say, Arabic at FSI on his or her own dime (while paying for separate housing)? Especially given the sequestration, I do not see that as feasible.
on July 31, 2013 @ 9:17 pm
I am torn on this one. I think there are two issues here that are being conflated though. The first is the need for more EFM employment opportunities, especially meaningful employment for spouses with advanced degrees. Unfortunately, this remains an important (although seldom discussed) problem which almost certainly impacts morale. So, I would agree that there needs to be more EFM employment opportunities for those people. But, that shouldn't prevent State from taking a critical look at the CLO position every now and then. If the outreach aspect is "important," then it's one of the responsibilities necessary for the role and management should fill it with people who have the skills to serve that purpose. If it turns out to be a government employee or local staff instead of an EFM, then so be it. But, either way, it's the larger issue that should concern us. State really needs to take a critical look at how few qualified EFM positions are available for spouses with advanced degrees. The CLO is only one position. EFM or not, it doesn't fix that problem.
on August 1, 2013 @ 12:17 am
I disagree with the author for many of the reasons already mentioned in a much more elegant manner than I will do. A more appropriate title for this article might be "Time to Redefine the CLO and turn it into a FSO PD position".
The author seems to expect to hire an EFM - at 1/3rd the compensation an FSO receives - and place the requirements and expectations of an FSO on them.
I ask, how many FSO's are truly fluent? Not many from my experience. An FSI 3/3 certainly does not equate to fluency - ask the nearest LN if you don't believe that!
I am an EFM. With my qualifications and background I can find a job (and have had jobs) in WDC that pays well into six figures without difficulty. I have twice had to make the hard decision between taking language courses or having meaningful, career enhancing, well compensated employment while my wife takes FSI language courses. Our family can't afford to give up the opportunity for me to earn real money ($90,000 while she learned Spanish) and further my career while my spouse takes language.
If the author (or the Department of State) wants to use the CLO as an FSO, than they need to find a way to PAY the CLO as an FSO both on the job and in training - and I don't think that is going to happen.
Another alternative to minimize negative stereotypes would be to place real value on EFM employment. Doing so would greatly improve the morale of EFM's resulting in fewer having obvious negative opinions of their daily lives/situations in the host country. I suspect it would also decrease the number of FSO's who leave the service because of dissatisfied families.
on August 1, 2013 @ 12:24 am
American diplomatic famililies overseas represent the United States--its culture, values, and interests--around the world. It takes a special type of person to represent America abroad to advance diplomatic initiatives. When one chooses the foreign service (including FSOs and Americans serving other USG agencies) they choose it for themselves, and if applicable, their spouses, and their children... It's not rocket science, when serving at an overseas post, Americans will need to interact with their host country.
CLOs--who serve our American families overseas--are an excellent resource and we all benefit from this program of connecting American citizens abroad. To emphasize the comments already made, yes, one of the key roles for the CLO is to "build community spirit and enhancing morale at post..." In the eight areas of responsibility, they need to coordinate and implement social, educational, and recreational programs within the American community but this ALSO includes engaging with the host country. It is ignorant to think that Americans can exist in a bubble or that their needs only extend as far out as to the rest of the American community overseas. It is naive to think that our CLO officers will not need to interact with our host community or that they can soley rely on their LES to do their legwork.
But let's get back to the crux of Mr. Walsh's commentary. As the world continues to become more and more anti-American, let's recognize the importance of the CLO position and the impact it has on connecting our American communities. The CLO is a high-profile role that links the American community to their host country.
We need to understand the importance and the value of all Americans and their families (serving U.S. embassies and consulates) around the world. We represent the United States by showing the host country that when interacting with an American, when Americans are supporting the local economy, or when Americans are engaging in host country activities that it all promotes a positive image. We are all the unofficials ambassadors for the United States.
on August 1, 2013 @ 2:15 am
In my opinion, the author does not understand well the responsibilities of the CLO position, nor the complications surrounding the hiring process and language training for spouses(and FSOs for that matter). I've held the job three times now, each time with some language ability, but only once with the benefit of prior language training. Many FSS are not trained in the local language either. Does this mean that they and all the spouses without training reflect negatively upon America? I don't think so.
on August 1, 2013 @ 5:00 am
Heidi - Yes, it does reflect negatively upon America if you can't speak the native language when you are representing the United States in the local community. Locals have no idea what the difference is between a spouse hire (EFM) and a full fledged diplomat when you reach out on behalf of the embassy. With all due respect, the fact that you were a CLO three times and don't understand the negative impressions that creates just underscores the problems with the USG approach to staffing this position. Of course, this is not to say that a CLO who speaks only English can't create positive impressions as well. You just can't be as effective as someone who speaks the language - which is a disservice to diplomatic families who need information that can only be obtained from local contacts who don't speak English. IMHO, that's why previous language training (not fluency but conversational ability) should be a prerequisite. Pointing that out should not be viewed as a slight to current/past CLOs but rather an objective assessment of reality.
on August 1, 2013 @ 7:13 am
Liz, respectfully, I disagree with your conclusions as do the overwhelming majority of the spouses and officers who have commented about this article on another forum. Mr. Garland hits the nail on the head above with his points about the most important requirement of the job - empathy. I've worked with several other CLOs in the past, some of whom had extensive language ability, and some who didn't. Some who had the least language skills were the most effective liaisons, both as "representatives," and also within the Embassy community. CLOs who need linguistic support have a number of options - many offices have locally hired admin assistants or are able to request help from the management section local staff and/or post language instructors.
on August 1, 2013 @ 9:43 am
One doesn't need to have fluency to avoid being the Ugly American - just make an honest effort and have a positive attitude. I visited France - you know, that country where they supposedly hate Americans because we don't speak their language?- and everyone was super-friendly and patient within the one semester of language ability that I'd acquired...to the point that my Belgian friend, who'd been studying French all his life, told me I should do all the talking because I was getting such a positive response. Americans get a bad reputation not because of lack of knowledge, but because so many tourists have a bad attitude.
Also, PD and CLO are nothing like the same thing and should not be compared or equated in any way - PD is a diplomacy position to represent the US to a foreign government and people; CLO exists to help the Americans at post adapt to DOS, embassy/consulate life, and the local scene. The comparisons the writer is making are not in any way founded on the actual purposes of the jobs.
on August 1, 2013 @ 1:15 pm
We can't even get CLOs who are competent in English sometimes. We get EFMs and sometimes they are good, and sometimes they aren't. Having an excellent bilingual LES in the CLO is the real key to ongoing success.
on August 1, 2013 @ 1:40 pm
Who needs the internet when you have a good ol' black-and-white TV set, eh?! This thread, with all due respect to the commenters who have served the USG, is a testament to how abysmally antiquated the thinking is in the Foreign Service. Having lived in a number of foreign capitals, I know well the high walls and gated communities of diplomats. In this day and age, to think that not being able to speak the local language is somehow acceptable in a CLO is-- to borrow a phrase-- uniquely American. It's not that hard to become conversational in a language. Ask our European friends. Shame on us. We should hold ourselves to a much higher standard. And yes, this includes EFMs. We are the United States of America. Scoffing at a "the cost" of better, more effective diplomacy, or somehow equating "empathy" to "ability" are the last gasps of a bygone approach to diplomacy. It is time to move forwards, evolve, and become much better global citizens.
on August 1, 2013 @ 5:40 pm
I strongly support equal access to language training for EFMs, but the importance of "fluency" differs from post to post. In Latin America, Spanish skills are extremely important. But does a CLO in Riyadh need a 3/3 in Arabic, or just excellent local staff? Does a CLO in the Netherlands truly need to speak fluent Dutch, when most in the community speak English? And Miles, don't forget that we move from country to country every 2-3 years. For an EFM, taking (unpaid) time away from work and/or family to study a new language for 6-24 months may not be possible each time. Intensive language programs for EFMs at post are also extremely important and a way to address this problem without requiring "fluency" from the start.
on August 2, 2013 @ 12:50 am
CLO's are not diplomats and they don't conduct diplomacy unless you expand the definition of diplomats and diplomacy to every American who steps outside the U.S.
Before accusing those who "Scoff at the cost", perhaps you should understand the effects of sequestration. We are currently hiring 1 EFM for every 2 who depart. I hardly think this is a time when paying EFM's to attend language training will be accepted by Congress or the American people.
My counterparts in the British, German and Australian embassies are not fluent in the local language either. Are they "Uniquely American" too?
on August 5, 2013 @ 11:08 am
A possible way to finance language training for CLOs: Request "heavy donor" political appointees to ambassadorial positions overseas to contribute to a special CLO language-learning fund. Such CLOs would then be in a position to assist the ambassador's (and, of course, other employees') family members to cope while abroad.
on August 10, 2013 @ 1:15 pm
I strongly disagree with Mr. Walsh on requiring the local language for a CLO. Certainly, in a perfect world that would be terrific,
but there are many posts where there are few candidates who are interested or able to do the job. There are in larger posts many resources a motivated non-speaker can tap into to help interfacing with the local community. Even USG public diplomacy employees are not required to have the post language.
Many CLOs have had spectacular success without the language. Many of the winners of the Secretary of State's Award for outstanding volunteer efforts lack language capability at their post.