United States Secretary of State

The United States Secretary of State is the head of the United States Department of State, concerned with foreign affairs. The Secretary is a member of the Cabinet and the highest-ranking cabinet secretary both in line of succession and order of precedence. The current Secretary of State is Hillary Rodham Clinton, the 67th person, and third woman to hold the post.


The position grew out of the short-lived Secretary of Foreign Affairs; most of the functions of the Secretary of State still revolve around foreign matters. The Secretary is commonly the chief diplomat of the United States, and advises the President on matters relating to foreign issues.

The specific duties of the Secretary of State include:[1]

  • Organizes and supervises the entire United States Department of State and the United States Foreign Service.
  • Supervises and supports the foreign affairs activities of other U.S. Government entities including the Defense Department, CIA, and Department of Homeland Security
  • Supervises the Special Activities Division of the National Clandestine Service.
  • Foreign trade missions and intelligence assets report directly to the Secretary of State.
  • Advises the President on matters relating to U.S. foreign policy, including the appointment of diplomatic representatives to other nations, and on the acceptance or dismissal of representatives from other nations.
  • Participates in high-level negotiations with other countries, either bilaterally or as part of an international conference or organization, or appoints representatives to do so. This includes the negotiation of international treaties and other agreements.
  • Responsible for overall direction, coordination, and supervision of interdepartmental activities of the U.S. Government overseas.
  • Providing information and services to U.S. citizens living or traveling abroad, including providing credentials in the form of passports and visas.
  • Supervises the United States immigration policy abroad.
  • Communicates issues relating the United States foreign policy to Congress and to U.S. citizens.

The original duties of the Secretary of State include some domestic duties, such as:[2]

  • Receipt, publication, distribution, and preservation of the laws of the United States
  • Preparation, sealing, and recording of the commissions of Presidential appointees
  • Preparation and authentication of copies of records and authentication of copies under the Department's seal
  • Custody of the Great Seal of the United States
  • Custody of the records of the former Secretary of the Continental Congress, except for those of the Treasury and War Departments

Most of the domestic functions of the Department of State have been transferred to other agencies. Those that remain include storage and use of the Great Seal of the United States, performance of protocol functions for the White House, and the drafting of certain proclamations. The Secretary also negotiates with the individual States over the extradition of fugitives to foreign countries.[1]

As the highest-ranking member of the cabinet, the Secretary of State is the third-highest official of the executive branch of the Federal Government of the United States, after the President and Vice President and is fourth in line to succeed the Presidency, coming after the Vice President, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the President pro tempore of the Senate. Six Secretaries of State have gone on to be elected President.

As the head of the United States Foreign Service, the Secretary of State is responsible for management of the diplomatic service of the United States. The foreign service employs about 12,000 people domestically and internationally, and supports 265 United States diplomatic missions around the world, including ambassadors to various nations.

Federal law ([[Title of the United States Code| U.S.C.]] § ) provides that a presidential or vice-presidential resignation must be accomplished by written communication from the President to the office of the Secretary of State. This has occurred once, when President Richard Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974 via a letter to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

When there is a vacancy in the office of Secretary of State, the duties are exercised either by another member of the cabinet, or, in more recent times, by a high-ranking official of the State Department until the President appoints, and the United States Senate confirms, a new Secretary.

List of Secretaries of State


  1. a b . . United States Department of State. 2009-01-20. http://www.state.gov/secretary/115194.htm. Retrieved 2010-03-28. 
  2. . Office of the Historian, United States Department of State. http://history.state.gov/about/faq. Retrieved 8 July 2010.