Let me start by saying very few writers, journalists, reporters, or authors have undertaken the insane task of trying to describe the U.S. Department of State in the format of a concise and easy-to-read article. In fact, I think it might just be impossible, and for good reason. The State Department is incredibly unique in that it is one of the largest bureaucracies in the world. You can find people that work on the drug trade through Mexico, promoting women’s rights, and painting the walls of the embassies all over the world, and they all work for the same “company.” There are offices within branches within divisions and they all fall under the general title of “State Department.”
And one cannot simply draw a chart and be done with it. For one thing, that would be a very large chart. For another, the State Department is like a living organism. It grows and shrinks to meet the needs of the federal government. A few weeks ago, I went to an “intern briefing” with a handful of interns from a few different offices. We were “briefed” on the structure of the State Department. One of the first slides of the presentation was a chart, which the speaker quickly prefaced with, “Ok, this is out of date. We’ve asked Administration to create another one and you would not believe the complicated responses we received.”
The best description of the Department of State can be found in two places; on the State.gov website (yes, that chart is out of date too).
The State.gov site provides the Department’s Official Mission Statement: “Shape and sustain a peaceful, prosperous, just, and democratic world and foster conditions for stability and progress for the benefit of the American people and people everywhere.”
This may not be true of all departments, but this statement definitely sets the tone for the atmosphere of where I work and the Foreign Service Institute.
A more recent interpretation of this statement outlines the main functions of the department. Those functions are:
- Advising presidents on the ends and means of U.S. foreign policy
- Gathering and sharing information about recent developments overseas
- Providing representation and services to U.S. Citizens abroad
- Regulating and managing foreign travel to the United States
- Investigating solutions to transnational problems such as environmental decay, large-scale poverty, and weapons proliferation
These are some pretty large goals for a single organization to take on, but lead by the Secretary of State, the Department does it.
In general, everyone falls under two categories; Civil Service and Foreign Service. The civil service is mostly based in the US, primarily in Washington, while the foreign service is based around the world. My office is a little unique because it falls under the Foreign Service Institute. These people are based in Washington as civil service, but they provide direct support to the Foreign Service Officers who must attend classes and trainings periodically. The paradox is very interesting, and it’s an incredible learning experience. By interacting with both Civil and Foreign Service, I get a pretty good sense of how my office fits into the big picture of the State Department.
People in the Department, and probably in Government everywhere, are very proud of what they do and the mission they serve, so I’ll finish this post with a little fact from that briefing meeting that I learned.
When you ask the general public what percentage of the national budget goes to the State Department, the average answer is around 20%. When you ask them what it should be, they say around 10%. The actual State Department budget is one tenth of one percent of the federal budget. And they do some incredible things with that little sliver of a percentage.