Understanding the President’s Cabinet: Secretary of State
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Understanding the President’s Cabinet: Secretary of State

Note: This is the second in a weekly series of explanatory posts on the officials and agencies included in the President’s Cabinet. See the series introduction here.

Cabinet position: Secretary of State

Department: U.S. Department of State

Current Secretary: Thomas A. Shannon Jr. is serving as acting Secretary pending the confirmation of President Trump’s nominee, Rex Tillerson.

Ranking/Succession: The Secretary of State is the highest ranking member of the Cabinet and the third-highest official of the executive branch of the federal government, after the President and Vice President. The Secretary of State is also fourth in line to succeed the Presidency.

Department Mission: “The [State] Department’s mission is to shape and sustain a peaceful, prosperous, just, and democratic world and foster conditions for stability and progress for the benefit of the American people and people everywhere. This mission is shared with the [United States Agency for International Development], ensuring we have a common path forward in partnership as we invest in the shared security and prosperity that will ultimately better prepare us for the challenges of tomorrow.” (Source)

Department Budget: $20,669,989,000 (FY 2017)

Number of employees: The State Department includes the Foreign Service corps (13,000 employees), a civil service branch (11,000 employees), and amore than 45,000 locally employed Foreign Service staff at overseas posts.

Primary Duties of the Secretary:

  • Serves as the President’s principal adviser on U.S. foreign policy;
  • Conducts negotiations relating to U.S. foreign affairs;
  • Grants and issues passports to American citizens and exequaturs to foreign consuls in the United States;
  • Advises the President on the appointment of U.S. ambassadors, ministers, consuls, and other diplomatic representatives;
  • Advises the President regarding the acceptance, recall, and dismissal of the representatives of foreign governments;
  • Personally participates in or directs U.S. representatives to international conferences, organizations, and agencies;
  • Negotiates, interprets, and terminates treaties and agreements;
  • Ensures the protection of the U.S. Government to American citizens, property, and interests in foreign countries;
  • Supervises the administration of U.S. immigration laws abroad;
  • Provides information to American citizens regarding the political, economic, social, cultural, and humanitarian conditions in foreign countries;
  • Informs the Congress and American citizens on the conduct of U.S. foreign relations;
  • Promotes beneficial economic intercourse between the United States and other countries;
  • Administers the Department of State;
  • Supervises the Foreign Service of the United States. (Source)

Nominee Info

Nominee: Rex Tillerson

Current/previous occupation: Tillerson was the chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil from 2006 to 2016.

Previous government experience: None

Religious Affiliation: Member of the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches

Civic Affiliations:

American Petroleum Institute (former chairman)

Boy Scouts of America (former national president)

Business Roundtable (member)

Business Council (member)

Business Council for International Understanding (member)

Center for Strategic and International Studies (trustee)

Emergency Committee for American Trade (member)

Ford’s Theatre Society (former vice chairman)

National Academy of Engineering (member)

National Petroleum Council (member)

Society of Petroleum Engineers (member)

United Negro College Fund (former director)

Notable achievements: Distinguished Eagle Scout (Boy Scouts of America); Awarded the Order of Friendship by Russian president Vladimir Putin in 2013.

Notable quotes:

On global poverty: “There are still hundreds of millions, billions of people living in abject poverty around the world. They need electricity. They need electricity they can count on, that they can afford. They need fuel to cook their food on that’s not animal dung.”

On energy consumption: “When coal came into the picture, it took about 50 or 60 years to displace timber. Then crude oil was found, and it took 60, 70 years, and then natural gas. So it takes 100 years or more for some new breakthrough in energy to become the dominant source. Most people have difficulty coming to grips with the sheer enormity of energy consumption. If we look at our energy outlook, at things like renewable wind, solar, biofuels, we have those sources over the next 30 years growing 700 to 800 percent. But in the year 2040, they’ll supply just 1 percent.”

On foreign sanctions: “When sanctions are imposed, they are, by design, going to harm American business.”


Next post in this series: Secretary of the Treasury


Previous and forthcoming posts in this series: Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of Defense, Attorney General, Secretary of the Interior, Secretary of Agriculture, Secretary of Commerce, Secretary of Labor, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Secretary of Transportation, Secretary of Energy, Secretary of Education, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Secretary of Homeland Security.

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).