The United States Department of State (DoS) is the United States oldest federal executive department. It is a cabinet department, i.e. an official in charge of the department (Secretary of State in this case) is a member of the Cabinet. Its history may be traced to the late 1780s. The Constitution of the US adopted on September 17, 1787, in Philadelphia, and ratified by eleven states the following year, authorized the President to conduct the nation’s foreign affairs. However, it soon turned out that the President could not cope with this cumbersome process singlehandedly. Thus, the House of Representatives and Senate approved a bill to adopt the DoS, and President Washington signed it into law on July 27, 1789, having made this department the first federal agency under the fledgling Constitution. An additional legislation approved several months later endowed the DoS with a plethora of responsibilities for US foreign policy, namely establishment of friendly bilateral relations with other countries, promotion of the US’ favorable image in the world, and advancement of US produce to the world’s market.

 The DoS is still a de jure deliberative body, for the Constitution stipulates that the implementation of foreign policy lies within the President’s jurisdiction. In practice, the Department of State fulfills the foreign policy course elaborated by the President and Congress. Moreover, the DoS performs some internal policy functions such as publication of laws. According to the department’s official website, its purpose and terms of reference have not changed since its institutionalization in 1789, but rather broadened to cover the following spheres:

  • Protection of safety of the US citizens who sojourn or travel abroad;
  • Assistance to American businesses in the international marketplace;
  • Intermediation of the democratic processes in the Third world countries;
  • Financial aid to the emergent nations;
  • Foreign cultural policy.

Post of the Secretary of State is an American analogy of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, which is popular in the overwhelming majority of other countries. Secretary of State holds the highest rank among the appointed executive branch officials. He/she is fourth in the presidential line of succession right after Vice President, Speaker of the House and President pro tempore of the Senate. He/she also stands out against the background of other members of the Cabinet in terms of his/her rank in the order of precedence. The President nominates a candidate for the post of Secretary of State, which must be confirmed by the Senate. Each President appoints his own Secretary of State, though the latter cannot occupy the post for two consecutive terms (4 years) as compared to the President. John Kerry serves as the incumbent Secretary of State under the Obama administration. He was inducted into the office on February 1, 2013.

The DoS consists of a myriad of subdivisions including the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. This bureau is famous for issuing an annual report dedicated to the efforts that the US makes in order to force the world’s authoritarian nations comply with the democratic principles. The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) trains diplomats, foreign service employees, and other members of the diplomatic corps. This institute composes and lectures courses on foreign languages for the representatives of diplomatic missions. Director of the FSI is nominated by the Secretary of State and is considered his aide.  By and large, the DoS consists of 56 bureaus and offices that run the gamut from the global women’s issues to nuclear nonproliferation. The heads of these bureaus and offices along with six undersecretaries and the United States Ambassador to the United Nations report to the Deputy Secretary of State who in his turn reports to the Secretary of State. There is a total of 52,400 employees working for the Department of State, according to the data from its official website. The Foreign Service operates under the auspices of the DoS and employs around 15,000 people, which coordinate conferences with foreign leaders and hammer out agreements with foreign governments. Another 7,400 employees of the DoS are involved into the system of the federal civil service. Finally, there are 31,000 Foreign Service Nationals employed by the DoS, i.e. non-diplomatic locally employed personnel of overseas missions. They provide clerical, administrative, and technical support at the overseas diplomatic outposts.

The Department of State is headquartered in the Harry S. Truman Building, which is located in the immediate vicinity of the White House in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington, D.C. The US maintains diplomatic relations with all the world’s countries to the exclusion of Bhutan, Cuba, Iran, and Northern Korea, as well as closely cooperates with major international organizations. This means that more than 250 US diplomatic outposts (embassies, consulates, and other diplomatic missions) cap the globe.

The Department of State’s portion of budget for Fiscal Year 2013 is $51.6 billion. This is exactly $800 million more than the Congress approved for the previous Fiscal Year. As a ci-devant Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has put it, “such an increase is even less than commensurate to the inflation rate and, thus, is justified”.  This tremendous sum is being spent in furtherance of the righteous cause, namely prevention of conflicts in the hotspots, maintenance of peace around the world, humanitarian aid to the developing countries, as well as human and economic security in general. Hence, it would not be wise to deprecate the Department of State’s somewhat bloated portion of budget. The US Department of State is one of the great whales that the US positive image rests on. America stands as a beacon of democracy towards the world, and it owes much of such an acknowledgement to the concerted actions of the DoS employees, whose overriding aim is to make the world a better place.

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