Thursday, May 6, 2021

Clearance for Personal Media Interviews

I recently did two interviews talking about my Foreign Service career on my own outside of work time: an audio interview on the Employed podcast and a written interview for a newsletter called Our Women in the World. Even personal interviews done on my own time, if in U.S. Department of State interest, require what we call "clearance" from the Department.

When a government employee hears the word "clearance", they may barely be able to suppress a groan. Clearance is simply our name for the process of approval by everyone with a stake in the product or the event or the thing getting cleared. Sometimes, that can stretch to a very large number of offices and individuals, some of whom will take a long time or have minor, seemingly unnecessary changes (what is often referred to as "happy to glad" changes because they're more likely to swap a synonym that make any substantive edits).

If you're a Foreign Service Officer assigned overseas who wants to do an interview or any kind of media engagement on your own time, you need to get that cleared with your supervisors, the local Public Diplomacy (PD) section, and the Bureau of Global Public Affairs (GPA) in Washington, DC.

If you've never done this before, I recommend talking to your post's assigned Press Attaché or your Public Affairs Officer (PAO) and they can send you the clearance form we use in the Department with all the information you need to send about the interview. Thankfully, even though we call it a "form" it's really just a list of things that can go in the body of an email instead of any formal memo. You'll need to gather information about the interview format, context on the requesting journalist, and most importantly make the case (just a sentence or two is sufficient) of why your participation is in the Department's interest. In this case, I wanted to talk in both of these interviews about diversity and inclusion at the Department of State and share information about this exciting career with others who might not be aware of it, especially women, people of color, and people from areas other than the East and West coasts.

I recommend requesting clearances as soon as possible regardless of the actual interview date, as it can take a while to get them all. In my case, each of these interviews took weeks to clear. Once my bosses approved, I sent the request to PD, who cleared it internally and with GPA for me. Once I received the clearance, I was free to go and do the actual interviews.

Do you want to listen to the final product of all these clearance efforts? You can read my written interview with Jennifer Koons in Our Women in the World here. And you can listen to me in the season finale of the Employed podcast wherever you get your podcasts or on Ali's website here (just scroll down to "Listen Here" and click on the episode labelled "Diplomat (Foreign Service Officer)". As intimidating as the clearance process can be, my advice is not to let it hold you back from talking about things that are important to you. There's a reason we have the process, and the more you know it and use it, the easier it gets to navigate.

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