Key Executive Branch Agencies in Foreign Affairs

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID): USAID is responsible for delivering the majority of American civilian international development and disaster assistance. Through functional and regional bureaus, the agency implements and evaluates programming for sustainable development; countering extreme poverty; food security; global health; disaster relief; gender and women’s empowerment; environmental conservation; education; human rights protection; and democracy and governance. The current USAID administrator is Gayle Smith.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA): USDA is responsible for creating and implementing legislation related to agriculture, forestry, farming, food security, and food aid, both domestically and internationally. The department promotes sustainable, eco-friendly development and more efficient and nutritious agricultural practices all over the world. The main administrator of international agricultural policy within the agency is the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS).   

U.S. Department of Commerce: The Commerce Department is responsible for promoting economic growth, employment, and sustainable development. Internationally, it deals with foreign direct investment, compliance, and trade. The most relevant bureau for the development community is the Department’s Bureau of International Trade Administration, which houses the Foreign Commercial Service (FCS). The secretary of commerce advises the president on the business world and economic development.

U.S. Department of Defense (DOD): Headquartered in the Pentagon, the DOD handles all government activities related to national security and the U.S. military. The U.S. military has three service branches, the Army, the Navy (which encompasses the Marine Corps), and the Air Force. It is a key part of balancing civil-military relations and is currently the largest employer in the country. It is responsible for standing up the military forces necessary to safeguard national security. The secretary of defense is the main defense policy advisor to the president. 

U.S. Department of State: The State Department is responsible for conducting U.S. international relations and diplomacy. It employs both foreign and civil service personnel, and contains a multitude of bureaus covering everything from regional affairs to trade, energy, and environmental conservation to human rights. Its consular offices tend to the needs of Americans travelling or living abroad. Important bureaus for the development community include the Office of Foreign Assistance Resources; the Office of the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights; the Office of the Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and Environment; the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration; and the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations. The secretary of state is the main foreign policy advisor to the president.

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS): The U.S. Geological Survey is a bureau of the Department of the Interior that seeks to understand the biodiversity of Earth. It works on issues related to climate change, land use, ecosystems, energy, minerals, environmental health, natural disasters, water quality and access, and civilian mapping. By collecting specimens and analyzing data, it provides science-based solutions to natural resource problems. Its International Program Office creates research partnerships with governments and NGOs in other countries, thereby enhancing international cooperation and strengthening science diplomacy. The USGS will help to implement the 2016 Global Food Security Act.

Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC): The MCC is an independent agency, established in 2004, that distributes large grants to countries for specific development projects their government wishes to carry out. The application process is highly competitive and successful countries must meet stringent standards in democracy, education, fiscal policy, and political and civil rights indicators. MCC aims to promote sustainable growth and people-oriented governance. It currently holds compacts with 44 countries.

National Security Council (NSC): The NSC convenes to discuss and advise the president on national security matters from multiple perspectives. The statutory members of the NSC are the president, the vice president, the secretaries of State, Defense, and Energy, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the directors of National Intelligence and National Drug Control Policy. It is common for other officials to attend meetings as well, though they are not legally mandated to do so. Through sheer concentration of power, the NSC has major influence over what is considered a national security issue, and which development activities receive attention and funding at a given moment. 

Office of Management and Budget (OMB): As the largest office within the Executive Office of the President, the Office of Management and Budget creates the president’s budget annually, and assesses the work of all other government agencies on terms of coordination with the president’s policy vision and compliance with resource allocation. OMB is also responsible for setting funding priorities, and consults with a wide variety of government and civil society representatives to do so.     

Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR): USTR is responsible for creating and recommending American trade policy to the administration, and for negotiating international trade agreements. It participates in the World Trade Organization, and is part of the Executive Office of the President. USTR will help to implement aspects of the 2016 Global Food Security Act.    

Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC): OPIC is the independent agency responsible for overseas development financing (including loans and investment funds) on behalf of the U.S. government. It supports private investment in over 160 countries, promoting sustainable economic growth and working to combat unemployment in the developing world. In doing so, it helps American businesses expand abroad, with particular attention paid to small businesses looking for international growth opportunities. OPIC is government funded, but does not keep its profits.    

Peace Corps: The Peace Corps is a government-run volunteer program that provides technical and socio-economic development assistance in the areas of education, agriculture, community development, health, nutrition, and environment. American volunteers are sent to one of over 60 countries for a two year period, during which time the volunteers create and implement community-led development projects falling into one of the above categories. About 5% of “expert” volunteers are sent on “Peace Corps Response” high impact missions for three months to a year. Current project example: A primary school in Cambodia lacked access to clean water. Student often missed school after coming into contact with contaminated water there. The Peace Corps is working to fix the school’s bathroom system, and install a clean handwashing station and large filtered water tank. Each classroom will also receive a water filter for drinking water, and over 400 students will be educated on hygiene and handwashing. Eventually, high school-aged students will teach younger students, ensuring the information circulates through the school for years to come.     

President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR): PEPFAR is a whole-of-government initiative for combatting the global HIV/AIDS epidemic. Its aims to bolster sustainable healthcare programs abroad, increase government capacity for prevention programming, integrate anti-HIV/AIDS programming with global health goals, and invest in research to improve health outcomes for and eventually eradicate HIV/AIDS. Agencies responsible for implementation include the Department of State, Department of Defense, USAID, Department of Commerce, Department of Labor, Department of Health and Human Services, and the Peace Corps. 

U.S. Treasury Department: The Treasury manages federal government revenue. Most development-related activities fall under the Office of International Affairs within the Office of International Finance and the Office of International Markets and Development. These offices deal with regional affairs; development policy and debt; energy and the environment; international financial policy; trade and investment policy; and technical assistance. It administers American funding for the international development banks and for international financial institutions such as the World Bank, ultimately steering American participation in the world economy.

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