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. Recently, the staff has included Foreign Service Officers, academics from universities and think tanks, intelligence analysts, former congressional staffers, an emergency room physician, a retired military officer, a business consultant, an arms control expert, and an economist. The staff is responsible for covering the full range of foreign policy issues facing the United States, although staff members exercise discretion and judgement in identifying the areas they focus on.The new Foreign Affairs Policy Board, launched in December 2011 to provide the Secretary of State, the Deputy Secretaries of State, and others with "independent, informed advice" on foreign policy matters, is led by the Policy Planning Staff. A list of members can be found here. It is chaired by Brookings President Strobe Talbott and includes at least three other current or former think tank heads:
- Jane Harman, President & CEO of the Wilson Center
- John Podesta, Chairman and former President of Center for American Progress (CAP)
- Ellen Laipson, President & CEO of the Stimson Center
The Director of the Policy Planning Staff is Jake Sullivan, who has deep connections to the think tank world. Mr. Sullivan served in various research posts for Leslie Gelb during Gelb's tenure as President of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and for Strobe Talbott during Talbott's time at the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization. Talbott now heads up the Brookings Institution.
Jared Cohen, the Director of Google Ideas, used to work for the State Department's Policy and Planning Staff in both the Bush and Obama Administration. Here is a good FP interview with him.
As a side note, some call the Center for American Progress (CAP) "the official Hillary Clinton think tank."