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APRIL 2016




The Department of State:

Mission and Vision Examined



he drafting and publication of an

official mission statement has

become standard practice for all

sorts of organizations, including

governmental ones. What it is and how

to prepare it are now taught in business


One fairly standard definition of a

mission statement (this one taken from

Wikipedia) is that it is a statement of the

purpose of a company, organization or

person; its reason for existing; a written

declaration of its core purpose and focus.

Amission statement is different from a

vision statement. While there are various

ways to approach this, I would suggest that

a mission statement defines and describes

the organization, while the vision state-

ment is the “roadmap” that tells us what it

wishes to accomplish at any given point.

Applied to the Department of State,

this tracks with the traditional distinction

between diplomacy and foreign policy.

Using some fairly standard dictionary

definitions, we find that diplomacy is “the

art and practice of conducting negotiations

between nations” in order to implement

foreign policy, which in turn consists of the

subjects, items and objectives of a given

country at a given time.

In other words, diplomacy is the instru-

ment and foreign policy is the program. A

mission statement describes the instru-

State now has two personnel systems,

operating on different principles,

undermining the congressional (and

national) decision to create and operate a

distinct professional diplomatic team.

Edward Marks spent 40 years in the U.S. Foreign Service, including an assignment as

ambassador to Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde. A senior mentor at various military

institutions, Ambassador Marks serves as a member of the American Diplomacy

board and as a Distinguished Senior Fellow at George Mason University. He was a

retiree representative on the AFSA Governing Board from 2013 to 2015.

ment, while a vision statement describes

the program.

Confusion at State

The Department of State appears to be

somewhat confused about this distinction.

Here is its mission statement presented in

the Fiscal Year 2015 Financial Report and

shown on the department’s website: “The

[State] Department’s mission is to shape

and sustain a peaceful, prosperous, just

and democratic world, and foster condi-

tions for stability and progress for the

benefit of the American people and people

everywhere. This mission is shared with

USAID, 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 chal-

lenges of tomorrow.”

A very brief overview of American for-

eign policy objectives, this would appear to

be more a vision statement than a mission


In other instances, the Department of

State seems to have a better grip on the

distinction. The following is displayed on

State’s career page on the Web: “The U.S.

Department of State is the lead institution

for the conduct of American diplomacy,

and the Secretary of State is the President’s

principal foreign policy advisor.”

This is more like a mission statement or

organizational description, although it is

curiously inadequate. For instance, it does

not state the obvious—that State is a U.S.

government department—even though

stating “obvious” fundamental facts is the

point of a mission statement. Calling the

Department of State an “institution” is a

curious bit of terminology that falls short of

describing its official character.

Further, this statement does not

describe the department’s very special

organizational model: a headquarters

located inWashington, D.C., with some

300 fairly small “branches” or offices

(embassies and consulates) spread around

the world.

This is the key organizational character-

istic of the State Department and reflects

its fundamental role—that of continu-

ous interaction with other governments

through formal liaison offices and accred-