Since 1947, the State Department has retained a Policy Planning Staff (S/P), regularly led by renowned foreign policy thinkers and operators. Charged with looking beyond the immediate time horizon and engaging in high-level thinking about future policy directions, the staff would seem to be positioned to play an important and even critical role. Given the pace of global change and the increasing salience of transnational issues that defy traditional categorization and cut across multiple bureaucratic jurisdictions (to include such examples as terrorism and crime, climate change and the spread of technologies that empower non-state actors), a staff that can identify multiple trends and tie them to policy decisions is an imperative.
Linking plans to actions in an era of rapid change constitute the key challenges to effective planning at the Department of State. As the ongoing Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) process weighs whether State possesses the capabilities necessary to maximize American influence in the 21st-century diplomatic environment, S/P should also come under scrutiny. The Policy Planning staff has itself taken responsibility for coordinating the QDDR process, and it should take the opportunity to examine closely its own role during and after this review. This policy brief aims to offer several tentative conclusions and recommendations aimed at enhancing S/P’s effectiveness.