Secretary of State

Secretary of State

Secretary of State is a commonly used title for a government official. The role varies between countries, and in some cases there are multiple Secretaries of State in the government.

In many countries, a secretary of state is a mid-level official. In the United Kingdom and the Holy See, a secretary of state is a senior official. In the federal government of the United States, there is one Secretary of State, the official responsible for foreign policy (i.e. equivalent to a foreign minister).


A Secretary of State (Secretario de Estado) in Argentina (federal government), is a high official with the same rank of a Minister who is responsible directly to the President. The position must be distinguished from a "Secretary", a lower position, responsible to a Minister.

The official responsible for foreign policy is called Minister of Foreign Affairs (Ministro de Relaciones Exteriores) or "Chancellor" (Canciller).


As in France, a Secretary of State in Belgium is a junior minister who is responsible to a minister or the Prime Minister. For example, Vincent Van Quickenborne was a Secretary of State charged with the simplification of the administration, and in this role he was accountable to the Prime Minister. Secretaries of state do not fall under the constitutional provision that there should be an equal number of Francophone and Dutch-speaking ministers (with the possible exception of the prime minister).


The Canadian Cabinet used to have a Secretary of State for External Affairs who acted as the country's Foreign Minister, but this position was abolished in 1993 and a new position of Minister of Foreign Affairs was created. From 1867 to 1993 there was also a Secretary of State for Canada who was a Cabinet minister whose duties varied over time but who was responsible for the Department of Secretary of State until the position was abolished. From 1993, some junior ministers are styled Secretary of State, and assigned specific policy areas to assist Cabinet ministers. However, these junior ministers are not themselves members of Cabinet. A similar role is played by Ministers of State, however Ministers are members of the cabinet.


A Secretary of State, "valtiosihteeri", is the highest official below each minister. Ministers, who lead ministries (government departments), comprise the Finnish Council of State. Each Secretary of State is appointed for the term of the minister, and is responsible to the minister.

This is a new arrangement; during the introduction of this model, a secretary was called "political state secretary" ("poliittinen valtiosihteeri"). In contrast, previously only two ministries, ministries of finance and foreign affairs, used to have Secretaries of State, who were permanently appointed. One such example is Raimo Sailas.


In France, a Secretary of State is a junior minister, responsible to a minister or the Prime Minister. It is not to be confused with the Minister of State title given to a senior French cabinet minister of particular importance.

Under the Ancien Régime, Secretaries of State were Crown officers whose responsibilities were similar to those of today's governmental ministers.


The German "Staatssekretär" is a "Beamter" (civil servant) who is second only to the minister in a state or federal ministry. The office of "Staatssekretär" is similar that of vice minister or deputy minister in other countries. It is a political office, meaning that it is assigned by appointment based on political criteria such as party affiliation, rather than by career progression as a civil servant, although he is the administrative head of the ministry

A special case is the "Parlamentarische Staatssekretär" (parliamentary secretary of state), which is a member of parliament who is appointed to a ministry as a "Staatssekretär". Such posts, which were intended to improve the connection between a ministry and the parliament, have recently become subject of some controversy. Critics claim that parliamentary secretaries of state are usually given little to no influence and responsibility within their ministry. All the while they are paid very generously due to receiving two salaries, both as secretary of state and as member of parliament. For example, when interviewed about his post as a parliamentary minister of state in the German Foreign Office during an investigation into visa abuse, Ludger Volmer claimed that he had been cut off from the workflow within the ministry, and called the "Staatsminister" office an "Unding" (absurdity).The German Foreign Office and the German Chancellery are using a slightly different title, and are calling their parliamentary secretaries of state "Staatsminister" (Minister of State).

In 1998, chancellor Gerhard Schröder introduced the new office of Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media ("Beauftragter der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien") at the formal rank of a "Parlamentarischer Staatssekretär", hence the office is usually called "Kulturstaatsminister" ("Minister of Culture") for short. The German Parliamentary Commission for Culture and the Media ("Ausschuss für Kultur und Medien im Deutschen Bundestag") serves in place of a proper ministry for this department. Since 1998, the office of "Kulturstaatsminister" has been held by Michael Naumann (1998-2001), Julian Nida-Rümelin (2001-2002), Christina Weiss (2002-2005), and Bernd Neumann (since 2005).

Holy See

The Cardinal Secretary of State presides over the Secretariat of State, which is the most important dicastery of the Roman Curia, as it organizes, makes appointments to, and directs the activities of the other dicasteries. The secretariat is also responsible for the Holy See's foreign relations. During a sede vacante, the former Secretary of State (the appointment expires when the pope dies or resigns) assumes some of the functions of the head of state as a part of a temporary commission.


In Indonesia, the State Secretary ("Sekretaris Negara") is a Government official of Ministerial rank who heads the State Secretariat. The State Secretary gives technical and administrational assistance to the President and Vice President in running State affairs. In the President's case, the State Secretary also provides assistance for the President in his role as Supreme Commander of TNI. In addition, the State Secretary provides the President and Vice President with their reports, coordinates household matters and protocols, as well as assisting in the drafting of bills and/or Governmental regulations.


Luxembourgian Secretaries of State ( _fr. secrétaire d'Etat, _lb. Staatssekretär(in), _de. Staatssekretär(in)) are members of the cabinet, and are ranked below ministers. They are given specific briefs, covering the same briefs as the ministers, and help to assist their respective ministers to perform their functions. They often hold more than one brief or assist more than one minister. In the current cabinet, there is one Secretary of State, Octavie Modert, who is responsible for Relations with Parliament; Agriculture, Viticulture, and Rural Development; and Culture, Higher Education, and Research. There had been two in the previous cabinet, and three between 1984 and 1989.


In Mexico a Secretary of State is a member of the Mexican Executive Cabinet who responds to the President of the Republic.


In the Netherlands a "staatssecretaris" (plural: staatssecretarissen; English: state secretary) is a "deputy minister", "junior minister" or "vice-minister" . Staatssecretarissen are members of cabinet, who work under a minister. They fall under the responsibility of the minister, but are also separately responsible to parliament. They take care of a part of the minister's portfolio. Some staatssecretarissen have clearly defined portfolios like culture, science or the environment, while others' portfolios overlap with their minister's. Staatssecretarissen almost always have a different political affiliation than their minister. Staatssecretarissen do not attend the weekly council of ministers unless asked to do so.


A "statssekretær" in Norway plays more or less the same role as the French equivalent. Secretaries of State are connected to specific ministry, and serve as a "de facto" vice minister.

Orange Free State

In the Orange Free State (1854-1902) the Secretary of State was the original the title of the main administrative officer of the State, who worked closely with both the State President as head of state and head of government, and his cabinet, and with the Volksraad, the parliament of the Orange Free State. The title of State Secretary was replaced by that of Government Secretary soon after the formation of the state apparatus and was thereafter never used again.


In Portugal the term "Secretário de Estado" (plural: "Secretários de Estado"; feminine: "Secretária de Estado"; English: state secretary) was used to designate the heads of the government departments since the XVII century. In the XIX century the term "Ministro" (English: minister) started to be used instead. Curiously the government junior ministers continued to be known as "Subsecretário de Estado" (English: under-secretary of state). Although in disuse as such, only in 1958 the term "Secretário de Estado" became the formal meaning of a different post of that of a "Ministro" (cabinet minister). Since then, the "Secretários de Estado" are junior ministers, subordinated to a cabinet minister.


In Russia, part of the function of Secretary of State is carried on by the Foreign Minister of Russia. The situation is confused by the break-up of the USSR and the fact that each member of the old USSR had a secretary (or head) for each republic.

List of people who were Secretary of State
* Count Karl Nesselrode, State Secretary in 1814, Foreign Minister in 1816
* Count Giovanni Antonio Capo d'Istria in 1816
* M. de Freigang sometime in the 1820-1828 time period
* Sergei Witte 1903-1905
* Andrei Gromyko in 1979
* [ Gennady Burbulis in 1993]
* Igor Ivanov until 2003
* Pavel Borodin in 2003

an Marino

In the Republic of San Marino a Secretary of State is a senior Cabinet Minister in charge of a State Department. The Secretary of State is a member of the Council of Ministers ("Congresso di Stato").

outh African Republic

In the South African Republic the Secretary of State was the main administrative officer of the State, working closely with both the State President as head of state and head of government, and with the Volksraad, the parliament of the South African Republic.


A "Secretario de Estado" is a junior minister. Each ministry may have several Secretaries of State. For example the Secretary of State for Latin America works for the Minister of Foreign Affairs


Each cabinet minister of the Swedish government has a State Secretary, who is the closest person working with the cabinet minister.


In the Swiss federal administration, secretaries of state are the most senior career officials. The title is conferred by the Swiss Federal Council on heads of federal offices whose duties entail independent interaction with senior foreign authorities (cf. [ article 46 of the Government and Administration Organisation Act] ). In practice, the function of a secretary of state is the same as in France.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, a secretary of state is a cabinet minister in charge of a government department (though not all departments are headed by a Secretary of State, e.g. HM Treasury is headed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer). There is in theory only one office of Secretary of State, and legislation generally refers only to "the Secretary of State". In practice, there are a number of Secretaries of State, each of whom can exercise the functions of the Secretary of State, and formally titled "Her Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for ...". These positions can be created without primary legislation.

United States

Federal government

In the United States "federal" government, "Secretary of State" uniquely refers to the official responsible for foreign policy, the analogue of the foreign secretary or foreign minister of a country that has one or the other. The U.S. Secretary of State is head of the United States Department of State.

The now long-established terms "Department ..." and "Secretary of State" were preceded (for two months following the effective date of the Constitution) by the narrower title Secretary of Foreign Affairs and the corresponding departmental name; the change reflected addition of some miscellaneous domestic responsibilities.

The position is widely regarded as the most senior in the cabinet.fact|date=September 2008 In the presidential line of succession the Secretary of State falls first among Cabinet officers, and fourth overall. The Secretary of State is also, in protocol, the first cabinet member in the order of precedence, immediately preceding any former presidents and former first ladies, who are followed by the rest of the Cabinet.

The U.S. Secretary of State as of 2008 is Condoleezza Rice, the second woman to hold the position, following Madeleine Albright. Secretary Rice is also the second African-American to hold the position, following President Bush's first Secretary of State, the retired general Colin Powell.

U.S. States

In most of the individual states of the United States, the Secretary of State is an administrative officer responsible for certain governmental functions. The specifics depend on the constitution and laws of the particular state, but often include responsibility for overseeing elections within the state. In three states (Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia), the position is called "Secretary of the Commonwealth".

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Secretary of state — State State (st[=a]t), n. [OE. stat, OF. estat, F. [ e]tat, fr. L. status a standing, position, fr. stare, statum, to stand. See {Stand}, and cf. {Estate}, {Status}.] 1. The circumstances or condition of a being or thing at any given time. [1913… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Secretary of State — steht für: United States Secretary of State, Außenminister der Vereinigten Staaten Secretary of State (US Bundesstaaten), ein hohes Wahlamt Secretary of State (Vereinigtes Königreich), ein Minister des Kabinetts Siehe auch: Staatsminister… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Secretary of State — plural Secretaries of State n 1.) also Secretary the head of an important department in the British Government ▪ the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry 2.) the head of the US government department that deals with the US s relations with… …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • secretary of state — n. (1) The head of the State Department of the United States, top ranking officer in the Cabinet, responsible for advising the president on matters of foreign policy. (2) An officer in a state who supervises state business affairs and licenses… …   Law dictionary

  • Secretary of State — n. 1. the head of the State Department and senior official of the Cabinet, who is the president s chief foreign policy advisor 2. a state official having various administrative duties …   English World dictionary

  • Secretary of State — noun count 1. ) the senior U.S. government official who deals with relations with other countries 2. ) a state government official in the U.S. 3. ) the politician in charge of a particular government department in the U.K …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • Secretary of State — ► NOUN 1) (in the UK) the head of a major government department. 2) (in the US) the head of the State Department, responsible for foreign affairs …   English terms dictionary

  • Secretary of State — UK / US noun [countable] Word forms Secretary of State : singular Secretary of State plural Secretary of States 1) the politician in charge of a particular government department in the UK the Secretary of State for Education and Employment 2) the …   English dictionary

  • Secretary of State — ♦♦♦ Secretaries of State 1) N COUNT: usu the N in sing In the United States, the Secretary of State is the head of the government department which deals with foreign affairs. 2) N COUNT: usu the N in sing In Britain, the Secretary of State for a… …   English dictionary

  • Secretary of State — noun 1. the person who holds the secretaryship of the Department of State (Freq. 6) the first Secretary of State was Thomas Jefferson • Hypernyms: ↑secretary 2. the position of the head of the State Department the position of Secretary of State… …   Useful english dictionary

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