The Office of the Chief of Protocol, a division of the Department of State, primarily advises and assists the president, vice president and secretary of state on matters of diplomatic protocol, or etiquette. The office arranges detailed itineraries for foreign dignitaries visiting the United States, and accompanies the president on official travels abroad. It also plans and executes diplomatic ceremonies and dinners, oversees the accreditation of foreign ambassadors and manages the Blair House, which is the president’s guest residence for visiting foreign leaders.
The concept of diplomatic protocol is steeped in history, dating back to the first recorded exchange of foreign envoys initiated by the Babylonians. Today, almost every country has a counterpart to the U.S. chief of protocol.
A chief of protocol must pay careful attention to detail and be well-versed in cultural differences to ensure diplomatic events proceed smoothly. For example, he or she must, when planning a state dinner, be aware of officials’ ranks when making seating assignments, must choose entertainment that doesn’t offend foreign sensibilities and must even choose a culturally appropriate color for flowers, among other responsibilities. Pamela Ahearn, who served as chief of protocol during the Reagan administration, was also scrupulous about checking the dietary requirements of visiting heads of state and government.
(a press release from the White House Web site)
Child star Shirley Temple Black served as chief of protocol from July 1, 1976, to Jan. 21, 1977.
President Obama nominated a longtime protégée of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Capricia Penavic Marshall, to be Chief of Protocol, a State Department position holding ambassadorial rank. Although the chief of protocol customarily travels with either the Secretary of State or the President, that will not be the case in this administration. Probably in recognition of her close relationship with Secretary Clinton, Marshall will travel with her but not with the President; instead the White House will create a new position for someone to travel with him and direct protocol matters.