Secretary of state

The title secretary of state or state secretary is commonly used for senior or mid-level posts in governments around the world. 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 post. It is usually a politically appointed position, although in some countries, such as Germany and Sweden, it can be filled by a member of the executive bureaucracy as a political appointment. In the Holy See, the administrative body of the Catholic Church, the cardinal secretary of state coordinates all the departments of the Roman Curia. In the United Kingdom, a secretary of state is a member of the cabinet appointed by the queen on the advice of the prime minister. The United States secretary of state is the foreign minister of the federal government of the United States while in most of the individual U.S. states the secretary of state is an administrative officer responsible for certain governmental functions, often including overseeing elections.


Orange Free State

In the Orange Free State the Secretary of State was the original 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.

Portuguese-speaking African countries

The organization of the governments of Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and São Tome and Príncipe closely mirrors the Portuguese government model. Thus, in these countries, a Secretary of State is a junior minister, subordinate to a cabinet minister. Usually, the secretaries of State do not participate in the council of ministers.
In Mozambique, the role of vice-minister exists as an intermediate government rank between those of minister and Secretary of State. The role of vice-minister also exists in the Government of Angola, but it is junior to that of Secretary of State.

South 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 the parliament of the South African Republic.


In Liberia, from 1847 until 1972, the Secretary of State was the head of the Department of State and the chief foreign policy officer of the republic, responsible for conducting diplomacy and implementing the nation's foreign affairs. The title was abolished in 1972 and replaced with the new nomenclature, Minister of Foreign Affairs. Throughout most of Liberia's history, holders of that office usually went on to become president.

The Americas


The Secretary of State in Argentina 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 or "Chancellor".


In Brazil, a Secretary of State – commonly referred simply as "Secretary" is one of the government members of each of the Brazilian states, subordinate to the respective State Governor. At state level, the Brazilian secretaries of State have functions similar to those of the Ministers of the Federal Government.
At federal level, the officer responsible for foreign affairs, a position equivalent to that of the United States Secretary of State, is the Minister of Foreign Affairs.


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. Since 1993, some junior ministers have been styled Secretary of State, and assigned in 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.


In Mexico a secretary of state is a member of the Mexican Executive Cabinet who responds to the president of the Republic.

United States

Federal government

In the United States federal government, "Secretary of State" refers to the official responsible for executing the non-military and non-homeland security aspects of 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. He or she is responsible for the administration of United States embassies and their subsidiary units throughout the world.
The U.S. secretary of state has the power to remove any foreign diplomat from U.S. soil for any reason.
Six secretaries of state became presidents and five won Nobel Peace Prizes.
The now long-established terms "Department..." and "Secretary of State" were preceded by the
narrower title Secretary of Foreign Affairs and the corresponding departmental name; the change reflected the addition of some miscellaneous domestic responsibilities.
The position is widely regarded as the most senior in the Cabinet. 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.
President Barack Obama named Hillary Clinton as his choice for 67th secretary of state on December 1, 2008. She was confirmed on January 21, 2009, the day after Obama's inauguration and is the third woman to hold the position. On December 21, 2012 President Obama announced his choice for secretary of state during his second term, Senator John Kerry. His confirmation hearing took place on January 24, 2013, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The committee unanimously voted to approve him on January 29, 2013, and the same day the full Senate confirmed him on a vote of 94–3. On February 1, 2013, Hillary Clinton resigned as Secretary of State and John Kerry was sworn in as the 68th secretary of state.
On February 1, 2017, Rex Wayne Tillerson was sworn in as the 69th United States secretary of state. His term ended on March 13, 2018, when he was fired by President Trump. Tillerson was succeeded by former congressman and then current director of the CIA Mike Pompeo, on April 26, 2018.

State government

In most of the individual states of the United States, the Secretary of State is an administrative officer responsible for certain governmental functions. The specific powers and duties of this office depend on the constitution and laws of the particular state, but they often include responsibility for overseeing elections within the state. In the state of Oregon the secretary of state is an elected office that acts as the equivalent of a lieutenant governor in other states among many other duties. In three states, the position is called "Secretary of the Commonwealth". In Connecticut, this office is called the "Secretary of the State". In three states, there is no secretary of state.



In Indonesia, the Minister-Secretary of State is a Government official of Ministerial rank who heads the Ministry of State Secretariat. The Minister-Secretary of State gives technical and administrative assistance to the President and Vice President in running State affairs. In the President's case, the Minister-Secretary of State also provides assistance for the President in his role as Commander-in-chief of Indonesian National Armed Forces. 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.


The Kuwaiti Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Sheikh Muhammad Al-Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah, is in charge of international relations of Kuwait, and all Kuwaiti representatives abroad. Al-Sabah is a member of the cabinet of ministers, and reports directly to Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, The Emir of Kuwait. He is also in charge of all the diplomatic representatives in Kuwait.


In Malaysia, Chief Secretary to the Government is the Malaysian secretary of state.
However, every state in Malaysia have their own State Secretary, except federal territories. Secretary of State is the member of the State Executive Council, appointed by the Governor or the Sultan. The State Secretary is the head of the public service in his/her state.


Following the Portuguese model, in the Government of Timor-Leste, a Secretary of State is a junior minister, subordinate to a cabinet minister. Despite being members of the Government, the Secretaries of State usually do not participate in the Council of Ministers, unless they are specially summoned for and, in this case, without right to vote.



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 French and Dutch-speaking ministers. See Current list of Secretary of States for Belgian Federal Government.
There are also three secretaries of State in the government of the Brussels-Capital Region, one of whom has to be Flemish.


The Secretary of State directs the Government Office. Its mission is to support the Government of Estonia and the Prime Minister of Estonia in policy drafting and implementation. It also supports any Ministers without portfolio and helps to ensure good governance. The first Secretary of State was Karl Terras. Before the Soviet re-occupation in 1944, the State Secretary went into exile until the position came back to Estonia in 1992.


A state secretary, is the highest official below each minister. Ministers, who lead ministries, comprise the Finnish Government. Each state secretary 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". In contrast, previously only two ministries, Ministries of Finance and Foreign Affairs, used to have state secretaries, 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 who is second only to the minister in a state or federal ministry, so the equivalent postiton is Permanent Secretary, not Secretary of state. While officially it is not a political office, often it is assigned by appointment based on political criteria such as party affiliation, rather than by career progression as a civil servant. Nevertheless, he/she/they is the administrative head of the ministry. They depend on the full confidence of their minister and can at any time be posted into provisional retirement with their pension paid in full. This happens usually when the government or the minister changes. De facto such a provisional retirement is lifelong.
A special case is the Parlamentarischer Staatssekretär, which is a member of parliament who is appointed to a ministry as a Staatssekretär; in the German Foreign Office and the German Chancellery the official title is Staatsminister. 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".
In 1998, chancellor Gerhard Schröder introduced the new office of Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media at the formal rank of a Parlamentarischer Staatssekretär, hence the office is usually called Kulturstaatsminister for short – although some of the incumbents did not hold a seat in parliament. The German Parliamentary Commission for Culture and the Media serves in place of a proper ministry for this department. Since 1998, the office of Kulturstaatsminister has been held by Michael Naumann, Julian Nida-Rümelin, Christina Weiss, Bernd Neumann and Monika Grütters.


In Greece, the title "Secretary of State" was used only intermittently during the early years of the modern Greek state. It was first employed for the head of the cabinet under the governorship of Ioannis Kapodistrias, a post held successively by Spyridon Trikoupis and Nikolaos Spiliadis. It was then abandoned, until used instead of the title of "Minister" for the cabinet members in the 1835–37 Cabinet of Josef Ludwig von Armansperg, with Armansperg being designated "Chief Secretary of State".

Holy See

The Secretary of State of His Holiness The Pope, or 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 assumes some of the functions of the head of state as a part of a temporary commission.


ian Secretaries of State, Staatssekretär) 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 first Juncker-Asselborn cabinet, there was 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.


As in France and Belgium, a State Secretary in the Netherlands is a junior minister who is responsible to a Cabinet Minister or the Prime Minister. Some of them may, in specific circumstances, call themselves Minister when visiting a foreign country.
The top civil servant in a government department is called Secretary-General .


A statssekretær in Norway plays more or less the same role as the French or Swedish equivalent.
Secretaries of State are connected to specific ministry, and serve as a de facto vice minister. However, the State Secretary cannot attend a Council of State and the only minister is constitutionally responsible for all the statssekretær's decisions in office.


In Portugal, a secretary of State is a junior minister, of intermediate rank between that of cabinet minister and that of under-secretary of State. Although members of the Government, the secretaries of State do not usually participate in the Council of Ministers, unless summoned for certain meetings and, in those cases, without right to vote.
Until the reorganization of the Portuguese Public Administration structure in 2004, it was common for a secretary of State to be in charge of a secretariat of State, a Government department with a status below that of a ministry. A secretariat of State could be organized as a division of a ministry or occasionally be directly subordinate to the Prime Minister. Despite this type of departament no longer officially exists in the organization of the Portuguese Government, it is still common usage for a set of agencies dependent on a secretary of State to be collectively referred as a "secretariat of State".
Presently, each secretary of State acts merely as a deputy minister, having only the powers delegated to him by his minister.
Historically, since the 17th century, the title of "secretary of State" was used to designate the heads of the Government departments of Portugal. In the 19th century, the title of "minister" started to be used instead, the official complete title of each of the ministers becoming "minister and secretary of State of a given portfolio" until the end of the Monarchy in 1910. From them on, the title "minister" completely replaced that of "secretary of State". In 1958, the title of "secretary of State" was reintroduced to designate the then created role of a junior minister, subordinate to a cabinet minister.


The position of State Secretary existed during certain periods of time. It exists now.
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.


In present-day organisation of the Spanish Government a Secretario de Estado is a junior minister. Each ministry may have one or several Secretaries of State. For example, the Secretary of State for Latin America works for the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation.
From 1715 to 1834 the Secretarios de Estado y del Despacho were the heads of different government departments. The Secretary of State usually served as Chief Minister.


In Sweden, a State Secretary is a political appointee, second in rank to the Minister in charge of the ministry. Unlike ministers, state secretaries are not members of the cabinet. Typically, there is one State Secretary assigned for each minister in the cabinet, and two for the Prime Minister. For historical reasons, the State Secretary in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs has another title. State Secretaries tend to, more often than the Ministers do, hail from a fixed civil servant background or a professional background relevant to the area of responsibility that belongs to their respective ministries.


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. In practice, the function of a secretary of state is the same as in France.

United Kingdom

Historical origin

In the Kingdom of England, before 1660, an officer entitled Secretary of State came into being near the end of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the usual title before that having been King's Clerk, King's Secretary, or Principal Secretary. From 1540 there were sometimes two secretaries of state.
From 1660 there were always two secretaries of state, between whom oversight of foreign affairs was divided on a geographical basis while domestic affairs were shared: the Northern Secretary and the Southern Secretary. In 1707, England and Scotland were merged into the Kingdom of Great Britain, and there was a third Secretary of State for Scotland until 1746. A third Secretary of State for the Colonies existed from 1768. In 1782 the system was reformed back to two secretaries of state: a Home Secretary and a Foreign Secretary, with the addition of a third for War from 1794.
The United Kingdom was formed by the union of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland in 1801. By a gradual process between then and the 1960s, most of the ministers of the British cabinet became secretaries of state.

Modern role

In the United Kingdom, a secretary of state is a cabinet minister in charge of a government department. Secretaries of state are appointed directly by the Monarch on the advice of the Prime Minister, and are responsible, along with other Cabinet members, for the collective government of the United Kingdom. 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 some of the functions of the Secretary of State, and are formally titled "Her Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for...". These positions can be created without primary legislation.