State Department

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State Department

The U.S. Department of State is part of the Executive Branch of government and is principally responsible for foreign affairs and foreign trade. It advises the president on the formulation and execution of foreign policy. As chief executive, the president has overall responsibility for the foreign policy of the United States. The Department of State's primary objective in the conduct of foreign relations is to promote the long-range security and well-being of the United States. The department determines and analyzes facts relating to U.S. overseas interests, makes recommendations on policy and future action, and takes the necessary steps to carry out established policy. In so doing, the department engages in continuous consultations with the Congress, other U.S. departments and agencies, and foreign governments; negotiates treaties and agreements with foreign nations; speaks for the United States in the United Nations and in more than 50 major international organizations in which the United States participates; and represents the United States at more than 800 international conferences annually.

The Department of State, the senior executive department of the U.S. government, was established by an act of July 27, 1789, as the Department of Foreign Affairs and was renamed Department of State by an act of September 15, 1789.

Office of the Secretary

The State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices

One of the U.S. State Department's most important tasks is to submit to Congress annual reports on the state of Human Rights in countries throughout the world. The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, as the book containing these reports is titled, contains extensive and detailed information that allows Congress and the State Department to make better decisions regarding U.S. policy toward foreign nations.

The State Department has submitted country reports to Congress each year since 1977. In the first year, the reports covered 82 countries, and by 1995 that number had grown to 194.

U.S. embassy staff members in each country write the preliminary report about the country. They obtain information from government and military officials, journalists, academics, and human rights activists. Embassy staff members often put themselves at great risk in collecting human rights information in countries with extensive rights violations. State Department staff members then edit the reports. They attempt to gather still more evidence from international human rights groups, international bodies such as the United Nations, and other sources.

The country reports are prefaced by an overview of human rights developments around the world, written by the assistant secretary of the Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Division of the State Department. This overview summarizes the international human rights situation, identifies those nations with serious rights violations, and comments on the state of democracy around the world.

Each report begins with basic information regarding the government and economy of a nation, followed by detailed information on the status of human rights in the country.

The 1995 report about Brazil serves as an example of the extensive detail in the country reports. The Brazil report chronicles significant human rights abuses in that country, including killings by police and military death squads, the murder of street children in Rio de Janeiro, and numerous instances of torture. The report also describes the social, political, and legal factors in Brazil that contribute to human rights violations. These include overloaded courts and prisons, corruption of public officials and police, widespread poverty, and ineffective investigation into police and military brutality.

Each report also analyzes the human rights situation for women, racial and ethnic minorities, and workers in the country. The report about Brazil indicates a high incidence of physical abuse of women, while noting that the country has increased the number of special police stations assigned the task of preventing crimes against women. Serious violations against the rights of indigenous peoples are also recorded, including atrocities committed by the military and private parties during land disputes. On the subject of workers' rights, the Brazil report details unsafe working conditions, use of child labor in sugar and charcoal production, and use of forced labor in mining and agriculture.

Further readings

"Country Reports on Human Rights Practices." 2001. Available online at <> (accessed February 27, 2004).


Genocide; Human Rights.

Secretary of State The Secretary of State, the principal foreign policy adviser to the president, is responsible for the overall direction, coordination, and supervision of U.S. foreign relations and for the interdepartmental activities of the U.S. government overseas. The secretary is the first-ranking member of the cabinet, is a member of the National Security Council, and is in charge of the operations of the department, including the Foreign Service. The office of the secretary includes the offices of the deputy secretary, under secretaries, assistant secretaries, counselor, legal adviser, and inspector general.

Economic and Agricultural Affairs The under secretary for economic and agricultural affairs is principal adviser to the secretary and deputy secretary of state on the formulation and conduct of foreign economic policy. Specific areas for which the under secretary is responsible include international trade, agriculture, energy, finance, transportation, and relations with developing countries.

International Security Affairs The under secretary for international security affairs is responsible for ensuring the integration of all elements of the Foreign Assistance Program as an effective instrument of U.S. foreign policy and serves as chair of the Arms Transfer Management Group. Other areas of responsibility include international scientific and technological issues, communications and information policy, and technology transfers.

Regional Bureaus Six geographic bureaus, each directed by an assistant secretary, are responsible for U.S. foreign affairs activities throughout the world. These bureaus are organized by region as the bureaus of African Affairs, European and Canadian Affairs, East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Inter-American Affairs, Near Eastern Affairs, and South Asian Affairs. The regional assistant secretaries also serve as chairs of interdepartmental groups in the National Security Council system. These groups discuss and decide issues that can be settled at the assistant secretary level, including those arising out of the implementation of National Security Council decisions. They prepare policy papers for consideration by the council and contingency papers on potential crisis areas for council review.

Functional Areas

Diplomatic Security The Bureau of Diplomatic Security, established under the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Antiterrorism Act of 1986, as amended (22 U.S.C.A. § 74803 etseq.), provides a secure environment for conducting U.S. diplomacy and promoting U.S. interests worldwide. The assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security is responsible for security and protective operations abroad and in the United States, counter-terrorism planning and coordination, security technology development, foreign government security training, and personnel training.

The Security Awareness Staff directs the development and execution of bureau-wide security and information awareness policies and programs, press and media relations, and public awareness. The Security Awareness Program provides information on diplomatic security concerns and is a focal point for responding to public inquiries and maintaining media relations on diplomatic security issues and events. The Training Support Division provides publications and training videotapes on diplomatic security concerns.

The Private Sector Liaison Staff maintains daily contact with and actively supports the U.S. private sector by disseminating timely, unclassified security information concerning the safety of U.S. private-sector personnel, facilities, and operations abroad. The staff operates the Electronic Bulletin Board, a computerized, unclassified security information database accessible to U.S. private-sector enterprises. It also provides direct consultation services to the private sector concerning security threats abroad.

The Overseas Security Advisory Council promotes cooperation on security-related issues between U.S. private-sector interests worldwide and the Department of State, as provided in 22 U.S.C.A. § 2656 and the Federal Advisory Committee Act, as amended (5 U.S.C.A. app.). The council serves as a continuing liaison and provides for operational security cooperation between department security functions and the private sector. The council also provides for regular and timely exchange of information between the private sector and the department concerning developments in protective security. Additionally, it recommends methods and provides material for coordinating security planning and implementation of security programs.

Economic and Business Affairs The Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs has overall responsibility for formulating and implementing policy regarding foreign economic matters, including resource and food policy, international energy issues, trade, economic sanctions, international finance and development, and aviation and maritime affairs.

Intelligence and Research The Bureau of Intelligence and Research coordinates programs of intelligence, analysis, and research for the department and other federal agencies and produces intelligence studies and current intelligence analyses essential to the determination and execution of foreign policy. Through its Office of Research, the bureau maintains liaisons with cultural and educational institutions and oversees contract research and conferences on foreign affairs subjects.

International Communications and Information Policy The Bureau of International Communications and Information Policy is the principal adviser to the secretary of state on international Telecommunications policy issues affecting U.S. foreign policy and national security. The bureau acts as a coordinator with other U.S. government agencies and the private sector in the formulation and implementation of international policies relating to a wide range of rapidly evolving communications and information technologies. The bureau promotes U.S. telecommunications interests bilaterally and multilaterally.International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs The Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs is responsible for developing, coordinating, and implementing international narcotics control assistance activities of the Department of State as authorized under sections 481 and 482 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended (22 U.S.C.A. §§ 2291, 2292). It is the principal point of contact with and provides advice on international narcotics control matters for the Office of Management and Budget, the National Security Council, and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy in ensuring implementation of U.S. policy in international narcotics matters. The bureau provides guidance on narcotics control matters to chiefs of missions and directs narcotics control coordinators at posts abroad. It also communicates or authorizes communication as appropriate with foreign governments on drug control matters including negotiating, concluding, and terminating agreements relating to international narcotics control programs.

International Organization Affairs The Bureau of International Organization Affairs provides guidance and support for U.S. participation in international organizations and conferences. It leads in the development, coordination, and implementation of U.S. multilateral policy. The bureau formulates and implements U.S. policy toward international organizations, with particular emphasis on those organizations that make up the United Nations system.

Legal Advisor The legal advisor advises the secretary and, through the secretary, the president, on all matters of International Law arising in the conduct of U.S. foreign relations. The legal advisor also provides general legal advice and services to the secretary and other officials of the department on matters with which the department and overseas posts are concerned.

Consular Affairs The Bureau of Consular Affairs, under the direction of the assistant secretary, is responsible for the administration and enforcement of the provisions of the immigration and nationality laws, insofar as they concern the department and the Foreign Service, for the issuance of passports and visas and related services, and for the protection and welfare of U.S. citizens and interests abroad.

Approximately 5 million passports are issued each year by the Passport Office of the bureau, which has agencies in Boston, Chicago, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Stamford, and Washington, D.C.

Political-Military Affairs The Bureau of Political-Military Affairs provides guidance and coordinates policy formulation on national security issues, including nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction and missile technology, nuclear and conventional arms control, defense relations and security assistance, and export controls. It acts as the department's primary liaison with the Defense Department. The bureau also participates in all major arms control, nonproliferation, and other security-related negotiations.

The bureau's major activities are designed to further U.S. national security objectives by stabilizing regional military balances through negotiations and security assistance, negotiating reductions in global inventories of weapons of mass destruction and curbing their proliferation, maintaining global access for U.S. military forces, inhibiting adversaries'access to militarily significant technologies, and promoting responsible U.S. defense trade.

Protocol The Chief of Protocol is the principal adviser to the U.S. government, the president, the vice president, and the secretary of state on matters of diplomatic procedure governed by law or international custom and practice. The office is responsible for visits of foreign chiefs of state, heads of government, and other high officials to the United States, operation of the president's guest house, Blair House, and conduct of official ceremonial functions and public events. It also is charged with the accreditation of more than 100,000 embassy, consular, international organization, and other foreign government personnel and members of their families throughout the United States. In addition, the office determines entitlement to diplomatic or consular Immunity.

Office of International Information Programs In 1999 Congress dissolved the U.S. Information Agency and transferred its functions to the Office of International Information Programs. This office designs for and distributes Internet and print publications to media, government officials, and the general public in 140 countries. It emphasizes the electronic distribution of information through various Web sites and CD-ROMS.

Foreign Service

Foreign relations are conducted principally by the U.S. Foreign Service. In 1996 representatives at 164 embassies, 12 missions, 1 U.S. liaison office, 1 U.S. interests section, 66 consulates general, 14 consulates, 3 branch offices, and 45 consular agencies throughout the world reported to the Department of State on the foreign developments that had a bearing on the welfare and security of the United States. These trained representatives provided the president and the secretary of state with much of the raw material from which foreign policy is made and with the recommendations that help shape it.

Ambassadors are the personal representatives of the president and report to the president through the secretary of state. Ambassadors have full responsibility for implementation of U.S. foreign policy by any and all U.S. government personnel within their country of assignment, except those under military commands. Their responsibilities include negotiating agreements between the United States and the host country, explaining and disseminating official U.S. policy, and maintaining cordial relations with that country's government and people.

Further readings

Center for Strategic and International Studies. 1998. Reinventing Diplomacy in the Information Age: A Report of the CSIS Advisory Panel on Diplomacy in the Information Age. Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Plischke, Elmer. 1999. U.S. Department of State: A Reference History. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.

Rubin, Barry. 1996. Secrets of State: The State Department and the Struggle over U.S. Foreign Policy. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

State Department. Available online at <> (accessed August 13, 2003).


Ambassadors and Consuls; Arms Control and Disarmament; International Law; Treaty.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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