An annotated list of government agencies.
With more than 100,000 employees and an annual budget of almost $100 billion, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is one of the largest cabinet offices in the federal government. It offers a wide range of research and subsidy programs that benefit both food-processing and agribusiness corporations. Although the department continues to assist small family farms, its greatest assistance is given to larger enterprises.
The U.S. Department of Commerce was originally established as the Department of Commerce and Labor, but within a decade of its creation, workers felt that their interests could not be adequately represented by the department because of its strong business focus. With a budget of less than $10 billion and a workforce of about 36,000 employees, the main focus of the modern Commerce Department is research and educational assistance. One of the department's subdivisions is the Patent and Trademark Office, which was originally part of the Department of State, although its functions were more consistent with those of the Commerce Department.
In both manpower and budget, the U.S. Department of Defense is easily the largest of all cabinet-level departments, as it oversees the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy and Marines, and U.S. Air Force. The department was created after World War II by combining the War (Army) and Navy Departments under a single unified command. The Air Force was later separated from the Army. Also included are a number of intelligence-gathering agencies. Obviously, with personnel numbering between 2 million and 3 million people, the department must purchase a great deal of services and material to perform its duties. These purchases offer a tremendous opportunity for a wide range of businesses.
The U.S. Department of Education became an agency in 1867 but underwent many changes before gaining cabinet-level status until 1979. It is the smallest of all cabinet-level departments, having only about 6,000 employees. Because most elementary and secondary schools and many colleges are the responsibility of state and local governments, the Department of Education is primarily involved in research. The chief business connection of the Education Department is in the demand it creates for books and other educational materials.
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil embargo of the 1970's brought widespread public attention to the fact that the United States was no longer self-sufficient in petroleum. The federal government responded by creating a new cabinet-level department to develop an energy policy. In addition to its research function, the U.S. Department of Energy provides regulation of the nuclear energy industry and controls the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Its main business constituency is the oil industry.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is principally the old Department of Health, Education, and Welfare minus the education function, which was transferred to the Department of Education in 1979. This department has a mandatory budget of almost $600 billion, part of which goes to entitlements, as one of its subdivisions is the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Its discretionary budget of $70 billion is spent on oversight of health and human services functions, including the Head Start Program, which some think should be under the Education Department. Medical and health industries are its primary business constituencies.
In the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the concern over national security and public safety led to the establishment of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, a new omnibus department that placed a wide variety of intelligence functions under one roof. The belief was that the intelligence agencies had failed to protect the public because they were in various departments and therefore found it difficult to coordinate their actions. In addition to intelligence gathering, certain public safety functions were judged to be more effective if placed under a single department. Although no additional terrorist attacks occurred on American soil after 2001, it remains to be seen whether the establishment of this cabinet-level department actually provided enhanced security. The department has more than 200,000 employees and a budget of more than $45 billion. A wide variety of businesses that provide security materials and services are the principal business constituencies of this department.
As originally envisioned by President Lyndon B. Johnson, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development would have had a major role in restructuring all American cities. As enthusiasm for Johnson's Great Society faded, the urban-development function atrophied, and the department focused almost entirely on providing housing all across the United States. The mortgage lending, real estate, and construction industries are the principal constituencies of this department. As a result of the lack of supervision from a number of presidential administrations, this department has developed a reputation for widespread corruption and contributed to the mortgage crisis of the early twenty-first century.
The U.S. Department of the Interior was created after the Mexican War, when it was recognized that the existing federal agencies were inadequate to control such a large block of territory as had been taken from Mexico in the war. At the same time, some functions, which had been scattered under the State, War, and Treasury Departments, were combined in this new department. Over the coming decades, other functions were deposited in the department, giving it the nickname of the “Department of Everything Else.” Oversight of such a diverse agency has been difficult, resulting in a number of scandals that have involved the many constituencies dependent on this agency.
Although the attorney general was a cabinet officer in the administration of President George Washington, the U.S. Department of Justice was not created until almost eighty years later. Because the department has an obvious regulatory function, any business involved in interstate commerce can come within its purview if the enterprise engages in illegal activities. The department does not have any obvious business constituencies.
The U.S. Department of Labor was created out of the old Department of Commerce and Labor in 1913 to give labor greater national recognition. With a budget of $60 billion and a workforce of fewer than 18,000 employees, the Department of Labor is one of the smaller cabinet-level departments. Its main constituency is labor unions, although it has a limited regulatory function over all businesses with employees.
The U.S. Department of State is the main foreign-policy division of the federal government. Its business constituencies are those with extensive foreign connections. Through its embassies and consulates across the globe, the State Department has long been involved in fostering business interests throughout the world.
The U.S. Department of Transportation was created to follow some thirty different transportation-related agencies and programs scattered across the federal government. This omnibus department is heavily involved in all forms of travel, whether by air, water, or land. It has both regulatory and financial assistance programs that aid its business constituencies in the highway construction, aviation, maritime, and land shipping industries.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury was one of the original cabinet departments established in 1789. In addition to raising revenue for the federal government, the Treasury Department has important economic functions in maintaining the solvency of the nation and the integrity of its currency. As such, it is vitally important to all business interests in the United States.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs was elevated to cabinet-level status in 1988 in an attempt to increase the recognition given to veterans in the federal system. There are no obvious business constituencies for this department, but this department obviously assists the entire business community by providing medical and other welfare benefits to veterans.
The Broadcasting Board of Governors is an independent federal agency that supports American business in international trade. It was created to take over the functions of Voice of America and other related government international nonmilitary broadcasting ventures. The International Broadcasting Bureau, which is the administrative vehicle for this agency, supports the day-to-day functioning of Voice of America and Voice of Cuba Broadcasting.
The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (also known as the Chemical Safety Board) is the federal agency charged with investigating chemical safety and hazard accidents at fixed industrial facilities. Although it does not investigate chemical accidents that occur in transportation, it does seek to find the root causes of accidents to better prevent them in the future.
The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission replaced the Commodity Exchange Authority. It is in charge of a comprehensive regulatory system to fight against fraud, manipulation, and abusive practices that may be involved in the sale of commodity and financial futures and options. It seeks to foster transparent, competitive, and financially sound options and futures markets.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission was created as an independent agency to help guard against "unreasonable risks" of injuries from consumer products. Any American industry that manufactures consumer products is potentially under regulation from this independent agency. This agency is perhaps best known for publicly announcing recalls of dangerous products as they become known. It maintains a hotline on which consumers may call to complain about the safety of products. The commission also maintains a list of important safety precautions that have to be included on consumer products, especially those used by children.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was created by President Richard M. Nixon to safeguard public health and protect the natural environment. Although the agency is not a cabinet-level department, the administrator of the agency typically is a member of the president's cabinet. With a budget of more than $7 billion and more than 17,000 employees, the agency regulates a wide range of manufacturing industries that might have an adverse effect on the environment.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is devoted to ending workplace discrimination based on an individual's color, race, national origin, sex, religion, age, or disability. In principle, any business with more than a few employees is subject to regulation by this commission. As a practical matter, the commission has a very restricted budget and uses a very narrow definition of discrimination, so that many regard the commission as not very effective in achieving its goal.
Established by executive order in 1934, the Export-Import Bank of the United States became an independent federal agency in 1945. Its purpose is to provide credit for purchases that would not take place if the bank did not provide credit. It does not compete with private lenders because it deals only with transactions that could not be financed in any other way. It is critically important to those American businesses that are involved in exporting and importing goods.
The Farm Credit Administration regulates the banks, cooperatives, and associations in the Farm Credit System. These are borrower-owned financial institutions that provide credit to farmers, ranchers, and rural utility cooperatives and that enable participants to obtain lower interest rates than those available from regional and national banks. The administration was established in 1933 and newly authorized by the Farm Credit Act of 1971, as amended.
The Federal Communications Commission regulates all interstate telecommunications, whether by wire, satellite, cable, or radio, as well as all international communications that start or end in the United States. The commission is best known for its regulation of radio and television broadcasting, the industries most closely connected with this agency.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation is generally seen as the most widely accepted New Deal reform of the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Liberals and conservatives agree that this agency has been successful in preventing runs on commercial banks in the United States. No depositor has lost any money in an insured account up to the limit of liability since the FDIC was created, and it has been a great boon to the banking industry.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, a branch of the Department of Homeland Security, was originally created in 1979 to coordinate responses to natural or human-caused disasters that were more than could be handled by state and local authorities. In most cases, a state governor must declare a state of emergency before the agency can go to work. If a disaster occurs on federal property, the agency can begin relief efforts immediately.
The Federal Housing Finance Board is a financing agency created to replace the Federal Home Loan Bank Board that failed during the savings and loan crisis of the late 1980's. Although it is an independent agency of the federal government, it does not receive any direct taxpayer funds and is financed entirely by fees assessed on Federal Home Bank Loans. Its business constituency is any institution making home loans.
The Federal Maritime Commission is responsible for regulating oceanic transportation of foreign commerce. An independent federal agency, it regulates shipping lines, cruise ships, and other passenger ship lines, making sure that they have sufficient resources to pay compensation for personal injuries, and monitors international agencies in an attempt to protect American shipping from unfair competition.
The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service is an independent federal agency created to mediate labor disputes and other contract issues between corporations and workers within the United States.
The Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission is an independent quasi-judicial agency of the federal government that adjudicates complaints filed against mine owners regarding the safety and health of workers. Regulations adjudicated by this commission are passed by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) in the Department of Labor. The commission's principal business constituencies are mine owners and the members of the labor unions for mine workers.
The Federal Reserve System was established in 1913 to act as a central banking system in the United States. Although some elements of a central banking system existed before 1913, the first full-fledged banking system was created in that year as a quasi-public entity. The members of the Federal Reserve System, the Federal Open Market Committee, and the twelve regional Federal Reserve banks act as fiscal agents for the United States Treasury. Publicly, the Federal Reserve System's Board of Governors sets the federal discount rate, or the interest rate on which the federal government lends money to its member banks all across the country. Raising the interest rate slows economic growth and prevents inflation, and lowering the rate stimulates economic growth and helps avoid business slowdowns and deflation. The tools of the Federal Reserve System are more effective in retarding inflation than they are in avoiding deflation.
The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board is a small federal agency with only about 100 employees. It allows federal employees to supplement their retirement plans with tax-exempt savings.
The Federal Trade Commission is an independent federal agency, designed to eliminate anticompetitive practices of monopolies and promote fair trade practices, that was created at the request of President Woodrow Wilson. Many of its functions have been taken over by other law-enforcement agencies, but it remains an important agency to its business constituency.
The Food and Drug Administration is responsible for promoting the safety of food, drugs, dietary supplements, vaccines, biological medical products, blood products, medical devices, cosmetics, veterinary products, and radiation-emitting devices throughout the United States. It is housed in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Any business producing or selling products within the purview of this administration is subject to regulation.
The U.S. International Trade Commission began as the U.S. Tariff Commission and was renamed in 1974. It is a staff agency for the executive and legislative branches of the United States government. As an independent, nonpartisan, quasi-judicial agency, it seeks to determine the impact of imports on American industries and can take certain actions against unfair trade practices from abroad, such as dumping and patent, trademark, and copyright infringement.
The Merit Systems Protection Board is a small independent agency that handles disputes between employees and the agencies of the federal government for which they work.
The National Credit Union Administration began as the Bureau of Federal Credit Unions and was renamed when it became an independent federal agency in 1970. It charters, licenses, and regulates federal credit unions within the United States. Federal credit unions are its principal constituency.
The National Labor Relations Board is an independent regulatory agency that supervises relationships among labor unions and employers. It holds elections to determine if the employees of a particular company wish to join a union. As such, any business with employees is potentially subject to its jurisdiction.
The National Mediation Board was created to govern labor-management relations in the railroad and airline industries. It has functions similar to those of the National Labor Relations Board.
The National Railroad Passenger Corporation is an intercity passenger railroad service best known as Amtrak. It was created to promote passenger rail service between cities in the United States and does not have jurisdiction over commuter rail service lines or the Northeast Corridor rail service, which are supervised by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The National Science Foundation supports nonmedical research and education in the areas of science and engineering. Its principal constituencies are American colleges and universities, which receive approximately 20 percent of all federal basic research funding. The agency has about 1,700 employees and a budget of more than $6 billion.
The National Transportation Safety Board has the prime responsibility for investigating all major transportation disasters, whether on air, land, or water, but it does not investigate military or intelligence department accidents.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulates all aspects of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, including nuclear power plants and other research facilities that use nuclear materials.
The Occupational Health and Safety Review Commission is the principal independent federal agency that reviews the enforcement-action priorities and cases under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. The commission is a quasi-judicial arm of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor. Virtually any business is subject to its jurisdiction.
The Overseas Private Investment Corporation assists businesses in investing overseas and promotes economic development in emerging markets. The agency receives no taxpayer money and charges market-based fees. It has accumulated as much as $4 billion in profits while assisting American corporations operating overseas.
The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation is funded entirely by fees from participating businesses and was established to promote voluntary, private, defined pension plans.
The U.S. Postal Service is the successor to the U.S. Post Office Department, which was a cabinet-level department in the federal government. Congress decided that the Post Office Department was no longer important enough to be a cabinet-level agency and that the department was too inefficient. Congress decided to operate the Postal Service more like a private business and created a government corporation to take over the responsibility for delivering the mail in the United States.
The Railroad Retirement Board is an independent agency created during the 1930's to provide a social insurance program and retirement benefits to American railroad workers, who do not pay into Social Security or gain Social Security benefits.
The Securities and Exchange Commission is the main independent regulatory agency of the U.S. government for enforcing the federal securities law and regulating the stock market and related securities industries. Created during the Great Depression, the commission enforces a series of securities regulations including the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002.
The Small Business Administration is an independent regulatory agency that assists small businesses. It also assists individual homeowners and small businesses to recover from economic and natural disasters.
The Social Security Board was created in 1935, and became part of the Federal Security Agency in 1939. It 1946 it was abolished and replaced by the Social Security Administration. It is an independent agency that administers Social Security programs, with a budget of $657 billion in fiscal year 2008.
The Tennessee Valley Authority, a government corporation started during the Great Depression, was created to develop hydroelectric power in the Tennessee River Valley. In addition to hydroelectric power, the TVA also promoted the development of electric power from other sources and manages various enterprises, such as fertilizer plants, which use the power it generates. The TVA also has an environmental division and seeks to promote tourism in the southeastern United States and in areas under its jurisdiction.