U.S. Department of State

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Commonly referred to as the State Department.

The Executive Branch and the Congress have constitutional responsibilities for U.S. foreign policy. Within the Executive Branch, the Department of State is the lead U.S. foreign affairs agency, and the Secretary of State is the President's principal foreign policy adviser, though other officials or individuals may have more influence on his foreign policy decisions. The Department advances U.S. objectives and interests in the world through its primary role in developing and implementing the President's foreign policy. The Department also supports the foreign affairs activities of other U.S. Government entities including the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Agency for International Development. It also provides an array of important services to U.S. citizens and to foreigners seeking to visit or immigrate to the U.S.

All foreign affairs activities -- U.S. representation abroad, foreign assistance programs, countering international crime, foreign military training programs, the services the Department provides, and more -- are paid for by the foreign affairs budget, which represents little more than 1% of the total federal budget, or about 12 cents a day for each American citizen. As stated by the Department of State, its purpose includes:

  • Promoting peace and stability in regions of vital interest;
  • Opening markets abroad;
  • Helping developing nations establish stable economic environments that provide investment and export opportunities;
  • Bringing nations together to address global problems such as cross-border pollution, the spread of communicable diseases, terrorism, nuclear smuggling, and humanitarian crises.

As the lead foreign affairs agency, the Department of State has the primary role in:

  • Leading interagency coordination in developing and implementing foreign policy;
  • Managing the foreign affairs budget and other foreign affairs resources;
  • Leading and coordinating U.S. representation abroad, conveying U.S. foreign policy to foreign governments and international organizations through U.S. embassies and consulates in foreign countries and diplomatic missions to international organizations;
  • Conducting negotiations and concluding agreements and treaties on issues ranging from trade to nuclear weapons;
  • Coordinating and supporting international activities of other U.S. agencies and officials.

The services the Department provides include:

  • Protecting and assisting U.S. citizens living or traveling abroad;
  • Assisting U.S. businesses in the international marketplace;
  • Coordinating and providing support for international activities of other U.S. agencies (local, state, or federal government), official visits overseas and at home, and other diplomatic efforts.
  • Keeping the public informed about U.S. foreign policy and relations with other countries and providing feedback from the public to administration officials.

The Department of State conducts all of these activities with a small workforce comprised of Civil Service and Foreign Service employees. In fact, the Department employs fewer people than do many local governments -- for example, in Memphis, Tennessee or Baltimore, Maryland. Overseas, Foreign Service officers represent America; analyze and report on political, economic, and social trends in the host country; and respond to the needs of American citizens abroad. The U.S. maintains diplomatic relations with about 180 countries and also maintains relations with many international organizations, adding up to a total of more than 250 posts around the world. In the United States, about 5,000 professional, technical, and administrative Civil Service employees work along side Foreign Service officers serving a stateside tour, compiling and analyzing reports from overseas, providing logistical support to posts, consulting with and keeping the Congress informed about foreign policy initiatives and policies, communicating with the American public, formulating and overseeing the budget, issuing passports and travel warnings, and more.

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