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What Does the U.S. Department of State Do?

By C. Mitchell
Updated Feb 23, 2024
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The U.S. Department of State coordinates and manages the United States’ international relations. Often referred to as the "State Department” or simply “State,” the U.S. Department of State is a government agency responsible for diplomacy. The department staffs and maintains the United States’ consular offices and embassies around the world, and coordinates with foreign dignitaries who wish to establish embassies in the United States. Other tasks include arranging meetings with international leaders and representing the United States in international treaty-making and peace-keeping meetings. Perhaps the most important thing the State Department does is to advise the President on pressing matters of international concern, and make recommendations for intervention.

In many respects, the U.S. Department of State is the heart of the U.S. government’s foreign relations branch. Almost every aspect of how the U.S. is portrayed on the world’s stage is cleared though State. The Department usually plays a formidable role in crafting U.S. foreign policy.

A government official known as the Secretary of State is the head of the U.S. Department of State. The Secretary is an important official who almost always accompanies the President in foreign travel situations. In all capacities, the Secretary represents the Department and, through the Department, the wider U.S. government, in meetings with international leaders and lawmakers. One of the Secretary’s main jobs is to promote U.S. ideals of democracy and freedom throughout the world.

At home, foreign travel and citizen relations are one of the U.S. State Department’s top responsibilities. Many international exchange and scholarship programs, including the Fulbright Fellowship, are overseen by the State Department. Any time a U.S. citizen travels abroad in a way that represents the U.S. government or government interests, the U.S. Department of State is usually involved.

Passport issuance is another of the Department’s tasks. The Bureau of Consular Affairs, an internal State Department office, issues passports and processes passport applications for all U.S. citizens. It also issues student and tourist visas to foreign nationals, and issues travel warnings and alerts.

All consulates and U.S. embassies abroad are staffed by State Department employees. When U.S. citizens run into trouble while traveling, they can seek the advice and counsel of embassy representatives. Embassy representatives also engage in local-level diplomacy in the foreign communities in which they live, often negotiating for U.S. government objectives and helping craft U.S.-friendly international rules.

When foreign dignitaries and ambassadors come to the U.S., the State Department oversees their placement, and ensures the swift processing of any visas or residency paperwork. State Department representatives meet with U.S.-based dignitaries on a regular basis to foster good international relations. Any problems with embassies or representatives also fall to the Department.

Of all the government departments, the U.S. Department of State is one of the biggest. As such, there are a great many different Department of State jobs. Most government jobs require employees to be U.S. citizens, and the Department of State is no exception. This is true for all positions, from high visibility diplomacy roles to secretarial and administrative functions. Because of the highly sensitive nature of much of the work of the Department, government security clearance is often also required.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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