- Historic Sites
April 1976 | Volume 27, Issue 3
The origins of the Department of State, the oldest of all departments, trace back to the Continental Congress in 1775. It is the first of three executive offices created in 1789—a fact that makes the Secretary of State the ranking Cabinet officer. The department is charged with assisting the President in the formulation and administration of foreign policy and in the direction of the foreign service. Currently it represents the United States in 50 major international organizations, including the United Nations, and at 650 international conferences each year. The department supervises 129 embassies and 126 missions or consulates overseas. Its civilian staff numbered 30,400 in 1975; its budget came to about $1 billion annually.
The chief financial agent of the federal government since 1789, the Department of the Treasury is responsible for assisting the President in the formulation of domestic and international fiscal policy, the management of the public debt, and the establishment and supervision of tax programs. In addition, it has administrative control of the tariff, the Customs Service, the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Mint, and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, which produces all paper currency, treasury notes and bonds, and postage stamps. The department is responsible for the regulation of about 4,600 national and District of Columbia banks. It controls the Secret Service, which protects the President and such other persons as Congress directs. Within the last three years the Treasury has assumed responsibility for federal energy policy and revenue sharing programs. Staff: 121,500 employees. Budget: $41 billion.
The successor of the Department of War (1789) and the Navy Department (1798), the Department of Defense was organized in 1947 to assist the President in the coordinated management of the American military establishment. It is the largest unit in the Cabinet, annually spending between 35 and 40 per cent of the federal budget and employing 39 per cent of the federal civilian bureaucracy. It currently maintains more than 450 major and 1,600 minor military posts in the United States and her possessions and about 300 major bases and 2,000 minor posts in 119 nations overseas. Its worldwide military force numbers 2.1 million men and women in all service branches and a ready reserve of 915,000. Civilian staff: 1.1 million. Budget: $87 billion.
The Attorney General was given Cabinet rank in 1789, during George Washington’s first administration, but he had no department to supervise until 1870. Currently the Department of Justice is responsible for all legal services required by the President, other executive departments, and the federal government generally. It is charged with federal law enforcement through U.S. Attorneys, U.S. Marshals, and the FBI . It supervises antitrust actions on behalf of the government and prosecutes violations of federal civil-rights law. In addition, the department is responsible for the Immigration Service. Staff: 51,540. Budget: $2 billion.
Established in 1849 as the “housekeeper” of the federal government—a function it still possesses in such duties as maintaining the White House grounds—the Department of the Interior currently concentrates its activities on the conservation and development of the nation’s natural resources in both the public and the private sectors. It is responsible for administering some 500 million acres of federal land, much of it in national parks, and 50 million more acres held in trust, mostly on Indian reservations. The department assists the President in establishing social and economic policies for the Trust Territories in the Pacific. It directs the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Mines, the Geological Survey, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, among others. Staff: 80,200. Budget: $2.2 billion.
Set up in 1862 as a federal department without Cabinet status, the Department of Agriculture secured full rank in 1889. The first of the “client” departments, its primary responsibility is to assist in the formulation and execution of programs to aid the nation’s farmers’and, through such divisions as the Extension Service, to disseminate useful information on agricultural subjects to the public at large. A major portion of its work is devoted to research and conservation. Among the services it offers farmers are marketing reports, crop insurance, commodity credits (to stabilize farm incomes), and low-cost loans for rural development, notably in providing electric and telephone service. The department is responsible for enforcing quality standards on some 300 agricultural products and for the inspection of meats and poultry. In addition, the department directs the Forest Service, which manages 155 national forests and 19 national grasslands comprising 187 million acres in 41 states and Puerto Rico. Since 1969 the department’s Food and Nutrition Service has administered the food-stamp program for low-income families and the National School Lunch Program. Staff: 121,000. Budget: $10.2 billion.