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Breakdown: The Department of State

Department work at home and abroad

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  • The Department of State governs over America’s foreign policy and advocates for diplomacy and democracy abroad, for the interest of United States citizens. [U.S. Department of State

  • It is more commonly referred to as the State Department.

  • The Secretary of State, picked by the president and confirmed by Congress, leads the department and works closely with the executive branch. [U.S. Department of State

  • The State Department is the oldest cabinet in the executive branch. 

  • There are two branches of the State Department: (1) civil and (2) foreign services.

  • The department has relations with most countries around the world and keeps track of global issues.

  • The Department of State works closely with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) on foreign policy and diplomatic affairs. [U.S. Department of State



CIVICS: The State Department works closely with the president to carry out foreign policy and maintain international relations. 


While the State Department can feel like an oversees mission, the civil branch directly impacts and operates within your state. Click to see how the department impacts your state:

SOCIAL: Some of the current issues concerning the State Department include COVID-19, threats of terrorism worldwide, and drug and human trafficking, among others. [U.S. Department of State


At home

The State Department is in charge of passport and visas, travel advisories, and scholarship opportunities for both U.S. citizens and international scholars.



And abroad

Policy issues of the State Department include: promoting human rights and democracy, tackling global health issues, improving trade policy, and economic prosperity.


The State Department engages in soft diplomacy through foreign aid.


The State Department also looks at specific countries, not just international issues.


Due to their various threats to their own people and other countries, some of the top countries concerning the State Department include:


Becoming political

Many believe the Department of State should be an apolitical department, putting the health and wellbeing of the U.S. above political party.


Some believe that recent employment cuts and a “redesigning” campaign of the State Department resulted in the polarization of the agency, focusing only on people loyal to President Trump’s agenda. [The Atlantic



Do more

While the State Department claims to denounce human rights violations around the world, such as in China, some wonder if the U.S. does enough to end those violations. [The Atlantic



Do less

There is a debate about whether or not the State Department should shrink or grow, meaning the U.S. government should be less involved or more involved in foreign affairs. [The Los Angeles Times


  • The current Secretary of State is Michael R. Pompeo. He is the 70th U.S. Secretary of State and was picked by President Trump. [U.S. Department of State

  • The Deputy Secretary is Stephen Biegun and he will act as Secretary of State if Pompeo is absent and cannot perform his duties. 

  • Secretary of State Pompeo made his most recent stance in foreign policy in his speech titled “Unalienable Rights and Traditions of Tolerance,” presented in Indonesia on October 29, 2020. [U.S. Department of State


  • If you were in charge of the State Department, what foreign issues would you prioritize?

  • One current controversy in the State Department is suspicious of Pompeo using State funds for personal reasons, such as dinner parties. Why might this be an issue? Read more from Politico

Key Vocabulary