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Donald Ensenat
Ambassador Donald Ensenat
Chief of Protocol, State Department

December 8, 2005

Donald Ensenat
Good morning, and thank you for having me. I am at the White House today, where I greeted the Chancellor of Austria and accompanied him during his visit with President Bush. In the Office of the Chief of Protocol, we are responsible for approximately 350 visits of foreign dignitaries to the United States per year. In addition to planning visits of chiefs of state and heads of government who are meeting with the President, Vice President or Secretary of State, we accompany the President on official visits abroad (such as his recent trip to Asia), plan events for the Secretary of State, assist with the credentialing of new foreign Ambassadors, and manage the President's Guest House, better known as Blair House. I would be happy to answer your questions.

Teman, from Jackson, TN writes:
How does someone become an ambassador, Mr. Ambassador?

Donald Ensenat
Under the U.S. Constitution, the President appoints Ambassadors with the "advice and consent" of the Senate, meaning they are confirmed by the Senate.

Jude, from Milwaukee writes:
How do you set up appointment for a foreign leader to meet with the President or the president meeting with a foreign leader

Donald Ensenat
The President, working with his staff, schedules his meetings with foreign heads of state and heads of government. The country's Ambassador in Washington, D.C. works with the President's National Security Advisor and his staff to set a date. When the date is set, our office works with the Ambassador and the American Embassy overseas to make all of the arrangements from arrival through departure from the United States.

On average, there are 350 visits a year of foreign leaders, foreign ministers and above, to Washington, D.C. that my office arranges.

Matthew, from Detroit writes:
When a head of state or significant official from another country is in the United States, does the Secret Service provide all security or is the home country's protection used or a combination of each?

Donald Ensenat
When a foreign head of state, for example a president, or head of government, for example a prime minister, come to the United States, the Secret Service provides security for them from touch down to departure. This includes not only Washington, D.C. but anywhere in the United States they may travel.

A foreign minister is provided security by the State Department's Diplomatic Security (DS) Service. On occasion, DS provides security, on request, for significant foreign visitors who are not foreign ministers. For example, Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, were provided security by DS during their recent visit to the United States.

Mike, from Marblehead, MA writes:
Mr. Ambassador, Is the United States the only country with a Chief of Protocol?

Thank you for your time.

Donald Ensenat
No. I have a counterpart, usually called the Chief of Protocol but not always, in almost every country.

Diplomatic protocol is a very old profession, dating back to the Babylonians who left the first recorded history of exchange of envoys with other kingdoms. The word "protocol" is the combination of two Greek words: "Proto", meaning first, and "collon", meaning glued. The name comes from the Greek diplomatic protocol requiring that any diplomatic dispatch have "glued" to the outside of its case a summary that could be read first and quickly--an executive summary if you will.

Interesting, isn't it?

Mabel, from OK writes:
Do you have anything to do with The Blair House? If so, have you ever gotten to sleep there?

Donald Ensenat
Yes we do. The President's Guest House, which is the proper name for the Blair House, is part of my office. As you may know, it is located on Pennsylvania Avenue across the street from the White House. Its principal use is a residence for foreign heads of state or government visiting the President.

It is called the Blair House because the Blair Family lived in it from 1835 until 1943 when it was purchased from them by President Franklin Roosevelt to be a guest house for the White House. In other words--the Blairs were the nearest neighbor of every President from Andrew Jackson through Franklin Roosevelt. A lot of American history occurred in the house when the Blairs lived there. The term "kitchen cabinet" was born in the house when Andrew Jackson's friends/advisors would gather in the Blair's kitchen.

For a wonderful website about the Blair House, including an interactive tour, visit

John, from Providence, RI writes:
President and Mrs. Bush have had very few full and elaborate State Dinners for visiting dignitaries. When was the last full ceremonial State Dinner and are any currently being planned? We enjoy watching open coverage of these events on cable network. Thank You.

Donald Ensenat
A State Dinner is part of a State Visit, which is the highest category of visit by a foreign head of state. A visit by a prime minister is called an Official Visit, such was the case when the Prime Minister of India visited in July.

President Bush has had five State and Official Visits, the President of Mexico in 2001, the President of Poland in 2002, the President of the Philippines in May 2003 and the President of Kenya in October 2003. In the second term, the Prime Minister of India came on an Official Visit in July 2005.

However, the President had nearly 350 "Working Visits" in the first term with foreign leaders. Working Visits have the same face-to-face business meetings with the President as State and Official Visits, but without all the ceremonies. The President feels that by having fewer State and Official Visits than perhaps other Presidents have had, he can accommodate more Working Visits on his very busy schedule. It also makes State Visits a very special honor for the leader of another country.

Pete, from Alexandria, Virginia writes:
What is your interaction with the military like during preparation for an Official State Visit? How are the military and diplomatic protocols handled?

Donald Ensenat
Pete, see my answer to the question of John from Providence about the differences between State, Official and Working Visits.

On State and Official Visits, the military puts on a wonderful ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, which includes military bands, a troop review and the U.S. Army's Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, who are dressed in early American military uniforms and always include "Yankee Doodle Dandy", the Revolutionary War Era song, when they parade for review in front of the President and the visiting leader. I think the South Lawn military ceremony is the best part of the State Visit.

Scott, from London, England writes:
Sir What books do you use as reference tools when dealing with matters of protocol?

Thank you

Donald Ensenat
Scott, surprisingly, there are almost no reference books on diplomatic protocol--rather I have only come across but a couple, and they deal with things like proper formats for invitations to diplomatic functions and proper responses, something the U.S. Chief of Protocol's Office does not really deal with. These matters are handled by the White House Social Secretary.

Like most of my colleagues around the world, we have had prior diplomatic experience before becoming the Chief of Protocol, usually as an Ambassador. I was formerly Ambassador to Brunei for former President George Bush. So on the job training "OJT" is how many of us learn our craft.

Winston, from San Diego writes:
Dear Ambassador, Planning the presidents travel sounds complicated yet exciting. How long does it take to plan a trip abroad for the president? How many people are involved in the process? Who decides what people the president will meet and what activities he will do while visiting abroad?

Thanks Winston

Donald Ensenat
President Bush has made over 25 overseas trips, or about one every other month. For example, last month, he traveled to Asia, visiting Japan, Korea, China and Mongolia. Click here to see a list of some of the visits with photos from his travels overseas.

As you can imagine, each of these trips involve extensive planning and arrangements. The agencies on the "travel team" include the Secret Service who arrange security, the U.S. Military who provide logistical support, including the wonderful Air Force One airplane, which is essentially the President's "flying office", and the U.S. Embassy in the country we visit which makes a lot of the on the ground arrangements, as well as some agencies you've probably never heard of. For example, the White House Communications Agency (WHCA) sets up an extensive communications network everywhere we go.

It's a big team but we all work together very well. To date the arrangements for our trips have gone flawlessly, thanks to the hard work of all the good folks on this team.

Madison, from New Orleans, LA writes:
Ambassador Ensenat, I am a 17 year old senior in high school. My dream job is to one day work in the Office of the Chief of Protocol, and maybe become Chief of Protocol. Can you offer me any advice as to how to get involved in a future career in Protocol?

Donald Ensenat
If you are interested in a career in diplomacy, most American diplomats are drawn from the career Foreign Service. I encourage you to visit the State Department's Career Website at to learn more.

While many U.S. Ambassadors are drawn from the career Foreign Service, the United States has a tradition going back to the first American ambassador, Benjamin Franklin, who was a printer, of selecting ambassadors from outside the government career service. Under the Constitution, it is the President's discretion to appoint ambassadors and he can select from within or outside the career service.

As someone beginning your career, I encourage you to look into the Foreign Service, particularly if you think you would enjoy representing the United States overseas.

P.S. New Orleans is my home town too! See you there.

Donald Ensenat
Thank you for joining me today. I enjoyed your questions and hope you have a better understanding of what we do in the Office of the Chief of Protocol. Feel free to visit our website at to learn more. Happy Holidays to you and your families.