Ten Things You Should Know About the State Department and USAID

Posted by Thomas R. Nides
August 27, 2011
Harry S Truman Building

Do you ever wonder what the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) do every day and what it means for you?

In the eight months since I joined the State Department, I've learned firsthand about the important and wide ranging work done by the women and men who work here and around the world to enhance our national and economic security. We help train the Mexican National Police forces who battle violent drug gangs just south of our border, and we serve alongside our military in Iraq and Afghanistan. We negotiate trade agreements and promote U.S. exports by reducing barriers to commerce.

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates used to say that the Department of Defense has as many people in military bands as the State Department has in the Foreign Service. With just over one percent of the entire federal budget, we have a huge impact on how Americans live and how the rest of the world experiences and engages America.

Here are a few examples of what we do on behalf of the American people:

1. We create American jobs. We directly support 20 million U.S. jobs by advocating on behalf of U.S. firms to open new markets, protect intellectual property, navigate foreign regulations and compete for foreign government and private contracts. State economic officers negotiate Open Skies agreements, which open new routes for air travel from the United States to countries throughout the world, creating thousands of American jobs and billions in U.S. economic activity each year.

2. We support American citizens abroad. In the past eight months, we provided emergency assistance to, or helped coordinate travel to safe locations for, American citizens in Japan, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Bahrain, and Cote d'Ivoire in the wake of natural disasters or civil unrest. Last year, we assisted in 11,000 international adoptions and worked on over 1,100 new child abduction cases -- resulting in the return of 485 American children.

3. We promote democracy and foster stability around the world. Stable democracies and prosperous communities are less likely to pose a threat to their neighbors or to the United States. South Sudan, the world's newest nation, can be a viable ally for the United States in east Africa, but right now, violence and instability threatens its success. U.S. diplomats and development experts are there to help the South Sudanese learn how to govern and develop their economy so that South Sudan can stand on its own. In Libya, we helped create unprecedented international support to help the people shed 42 years of dictatorship and begin the long path to democracy.

4. We help to ensure the world is a safer place. Our nonproliferation programs have destroyed dangerous stockpiles of missiles, munitions and the material that can be used to make a nuclear weapon. The New START Treaty, negotiated by the State Department and signed by President Obama in 2010, reduced the number of deployed nuclear weapons to levels not seen since the 1950s. And, in 2010, the State Department helped more than 40 countries clear millions of square meters of landmines.

5. We save lives. Our programs that fight disease and hunger reduce the risk of instability abroad and, in return, protect our national security. Strong bipartisan support for U.S. global health investments has led to unparalleled successes in the treatment, care and prevention of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, as well as saved millions from diseases like smallpox and polio.

6. We help countries feed themselves. In the United States, we know agriculture. Building upon what we do best -- grow and produce food -- we help other countries plant the right seeds in the right way and get crops to markets to feed the most people. Food shortages can lead to riots and starvation, but strong agricultural sectors can lead to stable economies, helping countries become strong U.S. trading partners.

7. We help in times of crisis. After this year's earthquake and tsunami in Japan, State and USAID sent disaster response experts, nuclear experts and urban search and rescue teams to work assist the government of Japan with meeting immediate needs. Secretary Clinton personally delivered much needed supplies to Chile within hours of a devastating earthquake. From earthquakes in Haiti to famine in the Horn of Africa and devastating fires in Israel, our experienced and talented emergency professionals deliver assistance to those who need it most.

8. We promote the rule of law and protect human dignity. Every day, we help people find freedom and shape their own destinies. In the Central Asian republics, we advocated for the release of prisoners held simply because their beliefs differed from those of the government. In Vietnam, we prevented political activists from suffering physical abuse. We have trained lawyers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to help rape victims, police officers in Peru to combat sex trafficking, and journalists in Malaysia in an effort to make their government more accountable.

9. We help Americans see the world. In 2010, we issued 14 million passports for Americans to travel abroad. We facilitate the lawful travel of students, tourists and business people, including issuing more than 700,000 visas for foreign students to study in the U.S. last year. And, if a storm could disrupt your vacation plans or if you could get sick from drinking the water, we alert you through our travel warnings.

10. We are the face of America overseas. Our diplomats, development experts, and the programs they implement are the source of American leadership around the world. They are the embodiments of our American values abroad. They are a force for good in the world.

The United States is a leader for peace, progress and prosperity, and the State Department and USAID help deliver that. All of this (and more) costs the American taxpayer about one percent of the overall federal budget. That is a small investment that yields a large return by advancing our national security, promoting our economic interests, and reaffirming our country's exceptional role in the world.

To learn more, please visit www.state.gov and www.usaid.gov.

Editor's Note: This entry appeared first on The Huffington Post.



New Mexico, USA
August 29, 2011

Eric in New Mexico writes:

@ Thomas, you might want to add one more to that list;

11) And occasionally we save the world by "stopping the car in time" to prevent nuclear war, as in 2002 between Pakistan and India.

Best regards,


United States
August 29, 2011

Zharkov in the U.S.A. writes:

It is reassuring to be told that the US government can govern foreign countries better than foreigners.

For an opposing view, ask a Serbian how a US alliance worked out for them.

August 29, 2011

James writes:

Secretary Clinton has been trying to persuade President Obama to allow USAID to fall under her Chain of Command. Maybe Obama will allow this to happen in the near future. Would allowing USAID to fall under her chain of command make the USAID more effective, and thus make the State Department more effective?

South Korea
August 29, 2011

Palgye in South Korea writes:

I don't know ten things but knows that. We need Brazil and More consider involving his country just like Italia' company to there, Irene killing person living in NY, it's disaster but when beguine recovery, we need coalition. I think we obtain victory but separate, now, we will not get 2012's victory. just my's opinion but I remembered he signed in "no-fly zone" yes, then we persuaded him but he also had burden.

We need, next word selecting yourself. Not country, now just corporation

Maureen V.
Massachusetts, USA
August 29, 2011

Maureen V. in Massachusetts writes:

Secretary Nides:

Is the State Department considering a television advertising campaign to inform the public that one percent of the national budget goes such a long way? Department of State going full circle, for you and your country...Citizens may be impressed and really see the need for a State Department/USAID budget increase.

Susan C.
Florida, USA
August 30, 2011

Susan C. in Florida writes:

Very few Americans realize what the State Department does. I only began to understand the scope of what you do after finding the DipNote blog. I was, am, amazed at all the very positive things that you accomplish around the world. All one has to do is read all of the diverse postings on DipNote to get an idea of how much State and USAID are doing. As an "ordinary" American I appreciate your dedication and hard work. Thank you.

United States
September 3, 2011

Zharkov in the U.S.A. writes:

From an efficiency standpoint, the State Department tries to do too much, too soon, resulting in a disasterous outcome.

One example, according to the news, is a USAID subcontractor, Alan Gross, convicted of handing out Satellite phones in Cuba, where it is illegal to use one without a license. That got him 15 years in prison. He's been locked up since 2009 and it looks like he could die in prison unless State can make Cuba a trade to get him out.

What someone at State failed to realize is that much of the Cuban government suffers from social paranoia, so tourists and visitors from the US are always watched by Cuban agents. Anyone who had read anything about Cuba would know that much.

There are reasons why visiting Cuba was illegal for Americans. Yet USAID apparently sent Mr Gross in there anyway. It's probably not the exception. Some should be asking about who at State gave permission for him to enter Cuba. Let's follow our own rules and keep people out of jail.

As for the Cuban government, this must be an embarrassment. Obama relaxed some restrictions against Cuba and this is how Cubans repay the favor? A Russian tourist handing someone a sat phone to use would never have received 15 years in prison. 3 years in prison is too long for handing out sat phones. 3 months would have been plenty of time but 15 years is completely nuts.

For a 62 year old man, 15 years amounts to life in prison. Cuba's government got some new communications equipment out of the incident, so release him. His imprisonment isn't going to help Cuban tourism.

On a list of places to avoid, Cuba is just ahead of Iran. The crazy rules both nations have would boggle the Western mind. Even their own citizens can't keep track from day to day what is legal or illegal in those countries. The Alan Gross case tells the world, "Don't even think of going there".

So Cuba should take a hint and allow Mr. Gross to leave Cuba. Commute his sentence to "time served" and deport him. That would be the reasonable thing to do.


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