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Policy Planning Staff

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At the U.S. Department of State, the Policy Planning Staff is a source of internal advice, with many of the characteristics of an external think tank. It was created in 1947 by George Kennan. It is charged with taking a long-term view, and, while there are variations with Administrations and specific personnel, tends to be relatively nonpartisan. While the exact title of the chief of the group varies, usually Director, it has the protocol rank of Assistant Secretary.

In his memoirs, Present at the Creation, former Secretary of State Dean Acheson characterized the role of Policy Planning
To anticipate the emerging form of things to come, to reappraise policies which had acquired their own momentum and went on after the reasons for them had ceased, and to stimulate and, when necessary, to devise basic policies crucial to the conduct of our foreign affairs.

It is available for special project work desired by the Secretary of State, such as coordinating the reconstruction of Afghanistan through February 2002, and implementing the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland. It coordinates policies across the various State Department office and divisions, and ensures the Secretary's message is consistent: all of the Secretary's speechwriters belong to it. It is also the liaison to external expert groups such as non-governmental organization, academia, and private think tanks. Many governments have equivalent functions in their Foreign Ministries, and the Staff holds "planning talks" with counterparts in European allies, Japan, South Korea, Australia, China, and Russia.

The Director of the Policy Planning Staff manages the State Department's Dissent Channel, which provides a means for a constructive, dissenting or alternative views on substantive foreign policy issues to the Secretary of State and Senior Department Officials.

The Policy Planning Staff is typically a mix of career government officials and outside experts who bring differing perspectives and bases of experience to the conduct of U.S. diplomacy.