Federal Department Overview

Federal Department Overview

The U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. has long symbolized representative government in America.

Kyle Stone | GovCentral Contributing Writer

More than 200 years ago, the founders of the United States gathered in Philadelphia to create a constitution for a new national government and transform America into a self-governing nation. The Federal Government of the United States has been the centralized governmental system of America since the signing of the original U.S. Constitution, and operates with three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial.

Essentially an organization formed to produce public services, the government comprises a vast network of different organizations, agencies, and contracted workers. There are thousands of different government careers to choose from; this guide intends to help you learn more about each of the major government agencies in order to make an informed decision about where to apply to. A few numbers:

● With more than 1.8 million civilian employees, the Federal Government is the Nation’s largest employer.
● About 9 out of 10 Federal employees work outside the Washington, DC metropolitan area.
● Job growth generated by increased homeland security needs will be offset by projected declines in other Federal sectors; however, many job openings should arise from the need to replace workers who retire or leave the Federal Government for other reasons.
● Competition is expected for many Federal positions, especially during times of economic uncertainty, when workers seek the stability of Federal employment.

Overview of Departments

Each of the 15 executive Cabinet departments administers programs that oversee an aspect of life in the United States. The highest departmental official of each Cabinet department, the Secretary, is a member of the President’s Cabinet. Each, listed by employment size, is described below and in table 1.

Department of Defense
Manages the military forces that protect our country and its interests, including the Departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force and a number of smaller agencies. The civilian workforce employed by the Department of Defense performs various support activities, such as payroll and public relations.


Air Force

Department of Veterans Affairs
Administers programs to aid U.S. veterans and their families, runs the veterans’ hospital system, and operates our national cemeteries.

Department of Homeland Security
Works to prevent terrorist attacks within the United States, reduce vulnerability to terrorism, and minimize the damage from potential attacks and natural disasters. It also administers the country’s immigration policies and oversees the Coast Guard.

Department of Treasury
Regulates banks and other financial institutions, administers the public debt, prints currency, and collects Federal income taxes.

Department of Justice
Works with State and local governments and other agencies to prevent and control crime and ensure public safety against threats both domestic and foreign. It also enforces Federal laws, prosecutes cases in Federal courts, and runs Federal prisons.

Department of Agriculture
Promotes U.S. agriculture domestically and internationally, manages forests, researches new ways to grow crops and conserve natural resources, ensures safe meat and poultry products, and leads the Federal anti-hunger programs, such as Food Stamps and School Lunch.

Department of the Interior
Manages Federal lands, including the national parks; runs hydroelectric power systems; and promotes conservation of natural resources.

Department of Health and Human Services
Performs health and social science research, assures the safety of drugs and foods other than meat and poultry, and administers Medicare, Medicaid, and numerous other social service programs.

Department of Transportation
Sets national transportation policy; plans and funds the construction of highways and mass transit systems; and regulates railroad, aviation, and maritime operations.

Department of Commerce
Forecasts the weather, charts the oceans, regulates patents and trademarks, conducts the census, compiles statistics, and promotes U.S. economic growth by encouraging international trade.

Department of State
Oversees the Nation’s embassies and consulates, issues passports, monitors U.S. interests abroad, and represents the United States before international organizations.

Department of Labor
Coordinates the national use and provision of energy, oversees the production and disposal of nuclear weapons, and plans for future energy needs.

Department of Energy
Forecasts the weather, charts the oceans, regulates patents and trademarks, conducts the census, compiles statistics, and promotes U.S. economic growth by encouraging international trade.

Department of Housing and Urban Development
Funds public housing projects, enforces equal housing laws, and insures and finances mortgages.

Department of Education
Monitors and distributes financial aid to schools and students, collects and disseminates data on schools and other education matters, and prohibits discrimination in education.

Overview of Independent Agencies

Back to Step 1: Learn About Government Careers

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