Jimmy Carter and Cyrus Vance

President Jimmy Carter’s new emphasis in foreign policy brought a new approach to policymaking to the Department of State. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance was a soft-spoken man with extensive experience in international law and previous service as Deputy Secretary of Defense under President Johnson.

Secretary of State Cyrus Vance

He believed strongly in teamwork and focused on making the Department function smoothly and efficiently. Initially, Vance was aided by President Carter’s determination to cut down the size and influence of the NSC, which Carter believed had become too powerful under Presidents Nixon and Ford. Under Vance, the organization charts actually followed the lines of authority. A high proportion of Vance’s assistant secretaries, especially those in the geographic bureaus, were Foreign Service officers. Vance believed in delegation, and he encouraged ambassadors to play a role in policy formulation. He promoted affirmative action and during his tenure, minority Foreign Service officers increased from six to 11 percent and women from 10 to 14 percent of the service. African-American Ambassadors were no longer a rarity—President Carter appointed 14 during his four years in office.

Under Vance, the Department of State expanded the role of ambassadors-at-large as government-wide coordinators. Ambassador-at-Large Henry Owen, for instance, coordinated economic summits. There was an Ambassador at Large for Mexican Affairs and one for Refugee Affairs. At the urging of Congress, the Department of State created a coordinator for human rights issues in April 1975; a position which President Carter and Congress upgraded in August 1977 to Assistant Secretary for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs. The war on drugs resulted in the 1978 creation of a Bureau of Narcotics Matters to coordinate the international narcotics control activities of all U.S. agencies. In 1980, a Bureau of Refugee Programs was split off from the Bureau of Human Rights to deal with the avalanche of refugee problems and issues.