Responsbilities of the United States Secretary of State
by Lance Crescin
America's first secretary of state was Thomas Jefferson, who served in the position before becoming president. Several of the nation's other Founding Fathers, including John Quincy Adams and James Madison, served as secretaries of state, as well. In the past half-century, a handful of major dignitaries influenced world events through the position, including Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright and Henry Kissinger. The U.S. president appoints the position to the presidential Cabinet, with the approval of the U.S. Senate.
The U.S. secretary of state is America's head of foreign affairs.
Head of Foreign Affairs
The primary function of the secretary of state is to serve as the president's chief adviser in foreign affairs, representing the president in negotiations with other countries, directing U.S. embassies and promoting U.S. interests beyond its borders. The secretary of state is the head of the U.S. State Department, which deals with all forms of foreign issues, from international crime to foreign military training to foreign assistance programs to help for U.S. citizens abroad. The secretary also helps maintain the United States' relations with roughly 180 countries and several international bodies. According to the department's mission, the secretary endeavors to promote peace and stability in foreign areas of American interest, bring together foreign leaders to tackle international problems and coordinate the efforts of U.S. agencies abroad.
Fourth in Line for Presidency
The position as head of foreign affairs is the highest-ranking position in the president's cabinet. The job is often one of the most visible cabinet-level spots because of its global reach and its influential advisory position to the president. Additionally, the secretary of state is fourth in line for the presidency. If the president, vice president, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate are not fit to serve, the secretary of state can be named president.
There are a few domestic responsibilities kept in the secretary's portfolio since the position was created by the U.S. Congress in 1789. The secretary maintains custody of the Great Seal of the United States, oversees communication between the federal government and other countries on the extradition of fugitives and keeps and publishes domestic and international treaties and agreements. The secretary also oversees the State Department's budget, with the help of two chiefs of staff, a deputy secretary, several undersecretaries and a personal staff of about eight people.