What is the Department of State (DOS)?

Monday, October 4, 2021

The United States Department of State (DOS) works to protect U.S. citizens at home and abroad. This is accomplished through a close relationship with the United States Agency for International Aid (USAID) since the two’s goals are similar. As DOS goes through a phase of restructuring and expansion in the upcoming years, meeting small and disadvantaged business (SDB) participation goals will be a key focus.

Mission and Organization

DOS was established by Congress in 1789, making it the oldest Federal agency in the Executive Branch. The mission of DOS is to lead “America’s foreign policy through diplomacy, advocacy, and assistance by advancing the interests of the American people, their safety and economic prosperity.” Through the Secretary of State, DOS assists the President with U.S. foreign policy and relations, although the President has constitutional authority over foreign affairs. DOS also helps the National Security Council (NSC) make decisions related to national security and deals with diverse subjects such as the climate crisis, cyber issues, and human trafficking. 

The structure of DOS’ workforce is unique from other agencies. It is made up of foreign and civil service employees, employed directly by the Federal Government, in addition to locally employed staff in the embassies and their spouses. This impacts how work is completed as not every DOS worker is technically employed by the same institution. 

This is an organizational flowchart for DOS. The connection between DOS and USAID is visible through the Secretary of State.

DOS is comprised of functional and regional bureaus. Functional bureaus coordinate across regions and countries and tend to be the biggest Federal spender of the two. These include the Office of Overseas Buildings (OBO), Office of Acquisition Management (OAM), and the Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA), among many others. The regional bureaus oversee the embassies and organize U.S. foreign relations within their area of operations. There are African, East Asian and Pacific, European and Eurasian, Near Eastern, South and Central Asian, and Western Hemisphere regional bureaus. 

Today, DOS runs over 270 embassies and offices, 23 passport agencies, six passport centers, two foreign press centers, one reception center, five logistic support offices for overseas operations, 30 security offices, and two financial service centers in 180 countries.

The Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) outlines DOS policy, while the Foreign Affairs Handbooks (FAHs) outline DOS procedures. These policies and procedures are the cornerstones of every action DOS takes, and are used to direct the three stages of strategic planning at DOS: 

There are three stages to strategic planning at DOS:

  1. The Joint Strategic Plan (JSP) explains how DOS and USAID implement decisions and assistance. DOS and USAID run the regional bureaus together, informing country-level strategic planning. USAID deals with non-military foreign aid to address international development and humanitarian issues. Although each agency is independent of each other, USAID and DOS often collaborate to work more efficiently.  
  2. Joint regional and functional bureau strategic planning is based on the broad goals set in the JSP. This stage focuses on organizing internally to be effective and have the most impact outside of the agency.
  3. The last stage is determining each country’s Integrated Country Strategy (ICS). This is a four-year plan of priorities in a certain country, again following the goals of the JSP and bureaus. For example, Singapore’s ICS has three mission goals: to “enhance safety and security at home and abroad through a strengthened U.S. and Singaporean partnership, promote economic growth and prosperity, and ensure the United States is viewed as an indispensable partner to Singapore”.

DOS in Action

The scope of DOS’ work is very broad as it operates both domestically and internationally. Some of the Department’s most commonly used and popular services and projects are described in this section


The United States has 163 embassies around the world, and hosts 168, mostly in Washington, D.C. A list of all the U.S. embassies can be found here. Every U.S. embassy acts as a home base in a foreign country, where U.S. citizens can receive help from the U.S. Federal Government. DOS oversees all of the embassies through its regional bureaus, as well as the consulates, smaller branches of the embassy in other cities. Embassies are considered U.S. territory, so the host country cannot, in any capacity, enter without permission. Each embassy is responsible for following its host country’s ICS.

Embassies are where U.S. Government representatives work in their assigned foreign country, led by an Ambassador (also called a Chief of Mission). The Ambassador’s Deputy, U.S. Foreign Service Officers and Specialists, and representatives from other U.S. Federal agencies such as USAID also reside there. However, the staff is local to the host country to help promote unity.

Passports and Other Documentations

U.S. citizens most commonly interact with DOS when applying for passports and other forms of documentation. CA within DOS controls the distribution of visas and passports. In 2020 alone, 20 million passports were issued, 54,904 of which were emergency passports delivered overseas. This Bureau aims to serve U.S. citizens domestically and abroad, coordinating with the embassies when necessary. 

Office of Global Partnerships

The Office of Global Partnerships (GP) is where DOS, the public and private sectors, and civil society meet. Here are some examples of who or what this office engages with:

  • academics, scientists, and innovators
  • corporate
  • diaspora, faith-based, and community organizations
  • foundations and philanthropy
  • non-governmental organizations

Diplomacy Lab, a public-private partnership between DOS and participating U.S. colleges and universities, is run through GP. This program broadens the DOS research base while giving undergraduate students experience conducting foreign policy research. Past projects have included democratic practices in sub-Saharan Africa, the effectiveness of U.S. media campaigns in foreign countries, and obstacles to refugees receiving COVID-19 vaccinations. 

Start Opps is another project spearheaded by DOS, co-founded with Y Combinator, Techstars, Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator (ERA), and Silicon Valley Group (SVG) Ventures with DOS. Working as a global venture accelerator, Start Opps supports startup companies that provide niche answers to complex problems. The THRIVE Africa Challenge, a Start Opps initiative between DOS and SVG, aims to address the problems in Africa’s food chain.

Contract Procurement and Acquisition

The Office of the Procurement Executive (A/OPE) “provides leadership over Department-wide acquisition and Federal Assistance policies, including developing, issuing, and maintaining acquisition and Federal Assistance regulations, procedures, and guidance” (1 FAM 212.2). A/OPE provides the legal services for the solicitation, award, and administration of contracts, such as negotiating contract disputes. Some acquisition processes move quickly as the need has arisen out of a world event that requires a swift response from the United States, while others are more commonplace, such as assistance with passports, visas, or security.

DOS has a similar acquisition process to other U.S. Federal agencies, but in some ways, the requirements may be more complicated. The Department’s Standard Terms and Conditions for Federal Awards is a useful resource for potential contractors. Facility clearances are important for international contractors to keep in mind as some certifications or classifications may need to be completed domestically, such as background checks using a Social Security Number.

If a company based in the U.S. obtains a contract and the place of work is overseas, the company may have to obtain a local business license to comply with local employment laws and taxes. The Department of Commerce (independent of DOS) has more information to make sure companies are prepared to meet all of these requirements.

Recent Contracts

Here are a few contracts DOS awarded recently to give an idea of the various goods and services DOS acquires. 

  • Diplomatic Security Information Systems Modernization: CACI was awarded a $96M task order by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) to develop, modernize and enhance its information system.
  • Local Guard Services – U.S. Mission South Africa: G4S Secure Integration LLC, based out of Omaha, Nebraska won a contract in June 2021 for $57M. They will provide local guard services in Pretoria, South Africa, including management and personnel, contract lasts for a year and maybe extended four times. 
  • Group Life and Disability Insurance: The U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya awarded a yearlong contract to UAP Life Insurance Limited to provide group life and disability insurance to the locally employed staff. This $1.5M firm fixed-price contract’s award notice was announced in September 2021.  

Spending Trends

As of September 2021, DOS has obligated $9B in discretionary spending for FY21. As seen below, the primary place of performance occurs in the state of Virginia. 

Top 10 U.S. Federal Contractors (FY16-FY21): 

  • B.L. Harbert International, LLC:
  • PAE Government Services, Inc:
  • Caddell Construction Co. (DE), LLC
  • CGI Federal Inc.
  • General Dynamics Information Technology, Inc.
  • SAIC
  • SOC
  • Triple Canopy, Inc.
  • Accenture Federal Services
  • National Endowment for Democracy

Top 10 PSC Codes (FY16-FY21): 

  • Y1AA (Construction of Office Buildings)
  • R408 (Support-Professional: Program Management/Support)
  • R430 (Support – Professional: Physical Security and Badging)
  • D399 (IT and Telecom – Other IT and Telecommunications)
  • S206 (Housekeeping – Guard)
  • C1AA (Architect and Engineering: Construction – Office Buildings)
  • R706 (Support – Management: Logistics Support)
  • R499 (Support – Professional: Other)
  • S216 (Housekeeping – Facilities Operations Support)
  • J015 (Maint/Repair/Rebuild of Equipment – Aircraft and Airframe Structural Components)

Top 10 NAICS Codes (FY16-FY21): 

  • 236220 (Commercial and Institutional Building Construction)
  • 561612 (Security Guards and Patrol Services)
  • 541512 (Computer Systems Design Services)
  • 561210 (Facilities Support Services
  • 541519 (Other Computer Related Services
  • 541513 (Computer Facilities Management Services)
  • 541611 (Administrative Management Consulting Services)
  • 541330 (Engineering Services)
  • 541614 (Process, Physical Distribution, and Logistics Consulting Services)
  • 488190 (Other Support Activities for Air Transportation)

The goals for small business participation are set by Congress and determine the minimum amount of contractual activity that must be awarded to small and disadvantaged businesses.

The hardest goal for DOS to reach is with women-owned businesses (WOSB). DOS uses the Department of Defense’s small business participation plan as a best practice for working with small businesses. This plan includes a requirement of proof that a subcontracting small business will receive a certain amount of the total contract value from the Prime contractor.

Current Opportunities to Work With DOS

  • Bureau of Information Resource Management (IRM) Evolve IT Services IDIQ: DOS is looking to consolidate its IT contracts (collectively referred to as Vanguard v2.2.1 primarily) into one $4B vehicle. Responses to the Request for Information (RFI) was due back in August 2021, with an industry day scheduled for late October.
  • Local Guard Services U.S. Embassy Bratislava: DOS released a solicitation in August 2021 in search of security forces for its embassy in Bratislava, Slovakia. The contractor should be able to provide the staff and structure to achieve this goal on site.  
  • Payroll and Salary Computation Outsource for US Embassy Berlin, Germany: Also posted in August 2021, DOS is looking to contract out payroll and salary information regarding the Berlin embassy. This will be completed through the Regional Procurement Support Office (RPSO) in Frankfurt.
  • Endoscopy System and Training Course: Classified under surgical and medical instrument manufacturing, DOS has an open solicitation for a vendor to organize an Endoscopy System and Training Course at the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) in the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City. Specifically, the work will be completed in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico. 
  • Internet and VPN Services: DOS has a firm-fixed-price purchase order for internet and VPN services for the U.S. Bogota Embassy, Guaymaral, CMR, DCR, VAU residence, and Cartagena Branch Office.

DOS in FY22

For FY22, DOS and USAID have jointly requested $58.5B, as seen in the FY2022 Budget Justification. This budget includes $10.1B for global health problems, $1B of which is designated to combatting COVID-19 (an $800M increase from FY21). The agency also plans to put $861M into Central America to support stability and stop irregular migration as part of President Biden’s commitment to invest $4B over four years. There is also a $10B budget for humanitarian aid for displaced people around the world. $6.1B of the budget will go to protecting DOS employees and U.S. citizens overseas. Additionally, DOS is requesting funding for the biggest employment increase in a decade.

FY22 Budget Justification FY22 Goals:

  • Ensures the United States is Better Prepared to Prevent, Detect, and Respond to Future Biological Threats and Pandemics
  • Responds to the Climate Crisis
  • Revitalizes Collaborative U.S. Leadership in Central America
  • Restores America’s Standing in International Organizations
  • Advances U.S. Humanitarian Leadership, Rebuilds U.S. Refugee Resettlement
  • Promotes and Defends our Democratic Values and Counters Rising Authoritarianism
  • Supports U.S. Partners in the Middle East and Advances Peace in the Region
  • Revitalizes the Foreign Policy Workforce to Deliver for All Americans
  • Invests in Information Technology (IT) Modernization and Stronger Cybersecurity
  • Supports Consular Services to Assist Americans, Promote Prosperity, and Advance U.S. Interests
  • Sustains Security for our Worldwide Presence

The following are the Joint Strategic Plan FY18-22 Goals, which are, in essence, a broader version of the budget’s goals. 

  • Protect America’s security at home and abroad
  • Renew America’s Competitive Advantage for Sustained Economic Growth and Job Creation
  • Promote American Leadership through Balanced Engagement
  • Ensure Effectiveness and Accountability to the American Taxpayer

DOS Beyond FY22

While some of DOS’ needs depend on the changing world environment, several upcoming reorganizations have already been planned. 

  • According to inside sources, there is an incoming senior procurement executive who plans to launch AcqX, a complete reorganization of the acquisition process.
  • Another focus of restructuring is on category management, particularly due to the need for more engagement of small and disadvantaged businesses, which is also a Biden Administration priority.
  • The upcoming centralization of HR functions will cause changes to the HR structures and practices within the regional bureaus. 
  • Additionally, the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations is looking to expand globally by constructing DOS offices in numerous new cities from FY21-FY25 including Paris, Dhaka, and Seoul. An updated JSP is also expected as the current one will expire at the end of 2022. 

Another major priority is updating DOS cybersecurity measures. A DOS Office of Inspector General (OIG) audit in July 2021 reported that four of six information systems had expired authorizations causing a security threat, in addition to other outdated aspects that resulted in 10 recommendations. If DOS is not utilizing the most up-to-date technology internally, there is a larger probability of a security breach or system failure that could impact the safety of the American people. For this reason, DOS approved a new Cyberspace Security and Emerging Technologies (CSET) Bureau to reorganize and improve cybersecurity practices. The CSET Bureau aligns with the Administration’s priority of increasing cybersecurity forces and technology to help guide the country through diplomatic cyberspace issues. 

DOS, like many other Federal agencies, requires a wide variety of services to achieve its goals. With the numerous restructuring plans in place following the implementation of a new Administration, the Department will require even more contractual help to continue to protect U.S. citizens, specifically utilizing small businesses. 

Researched and authored by Haley Boulanger, Pulse Analyst.

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