Click here for a printable version of these frequently asked questions about the United States Foreign Service.
Q: What is diplomacy?
In addition to the State Department, there are Foreign Service members in five other U.S. government agencies:
A: Diplomacy is one of the main instruments of foreign policy. Diplomacy entails influencing the decisions and conduct of foreign governments and officials through dialogue, negotiation, and other nonviolent means.
Q: Foreign Service – who are we?
A: Members of the Foreign Service are professional diplomats, non-partisan public servants charged with carrying out as well as guiding the foreign policy of the United States. As career professionals, they are trained in foreign languages, international relations, and diplomacy.
U.S. diplomats operate out of U.S. embassies and consulates at 276 posts around the world. The only countries in which the US does not have representation are North Korea, Bhutan, Iran, and Syria.
As of 2020, there are about 16,000 members of the Foreign Service from across all these agencies working around the world on behalf of the U.S. government.
Q: Where do we work?
Ben Franklin was the first American Ambassador in 1779.
A: Diplomats work in U.S. embassies and consulates when they are overseas, led by an ambassador. An ambassador is the President’s personal representative and the highest-ranking U.S. official in the country.
In addition to the Foreign Service members, representatives of other agencies also work at the embassy, including Drug Enforcement Agency, Defense, FBI, and Justice, among others.
Embassies also hire local staff who know the local culture, have essential skills or have significant contacts in the government and civil society.
Q: What do we do?
The International Affairs budget, which funds the operations of the State Department/USAID and our foreign assistanced, represents less than 1% of our overall federal budget.
A: Posted in almost every country around the world, members of the Foreign Service are our eyes and ears on the ground. Diplomats work to promote and protect American interests and values and to keep Americans secure and prosperous at home.
Diplomats move from post to post, accumulating knowledge and experience that they then apply to new issues and problems that arise.
The jobs and roles of diplomats are varied and include:
On average, diplomats stay in service for 25 years.
As the first line of defense when it comes to solving or buffering international misunderstandings and problems, diplomats play a major role in our national security.
Q: What is the Foreign Service role’s in America’s national security?
Secretary of Defense James Mattis told the Senate in March 2013 when he was Commander of U.S. Central Command, “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition.”
A: In addition to terrorism, there are a variety of issues—economic, political, climate, disease, agricultural, or cybersecurity related - that can become threats to American national security. Though the Foreign Service doesn’t have tanks, or ships, or guns like the military, Foreign Service members also work on the front lines around the world to keep Americans safe.
Foreign Service members have expertise on a range of topics to be able to address and counteract issues that can pose threats to American national security: