The US Cabinet Departments: Divisions and Functions

From the lecture series: Understanding the US Government

By Jennifer Nicoll Victor, Ph.D., George Mason University

The 15 cabinet departments in the United States federal government’s bureaucracy are part of the executive branch, and they all come under the president’s leadership. Read about the specific jurisdiction and function each department has.

The US Capitol building.
There are 15 cabinet-level departments in the executive branch of the United States government. (Image: Orhan Cam/Shutterstock)

The executive branch of the United States government is organized into a series of five buckets, all under the president’s leadership. One of these buckets contains the 15 cabinet-level departments.

Each of these departments is headed by a cabinet secretary.

Learn more about the federal government.

Departments of Agriculture and Commerce

The Department of Agriculture oversees all aspects of agribusiness in the United States. It houses a number of agencies involved with the regulation of agribusiness, including the US Farm Service Agency and the US Forest Service.

Meanwhile, the Department of Commerce oversees all aspects of commerce in the United States. Included in this department is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, which houses the National Weather Service.

These agencies are in the Commerce Department because of the profound effect that weather has on the movement of goods and services around the United States. NOAA maintains the most up-to-date, accurate, and comprehensive data on weather in the US, which is unmatched by any non-government entity.

The Commerce Department also includes the Bureau of the Census and the US Patent and Trademark Office that tracks inventions and other innovations in United States industries, universities, and research laboratories, as well as creative contributions often related to the marketing of products and services.

The Department of Defence

Aerial photograph of the Pentagon building.
The Pentagon is one of the world’s largest office buildings. (Image: Jeremy Christensen/Shutterstock)

The Department of Defence is the largest cabinet department. The DoD is housed at the famous building in Arlington, Virginia, known as the Pentagon, for its recognizable, five-sided shape.

The Pentagon is one of the world’s largest office buildings, at about 6.5 million square feet.

The DoD is home to the US Armed Services, including the army, air force, navy, and marines. The National Security Agency is also part of the Department of Defence.

This is a transcript from the video series Understanding the US Government. Watch it now, Wondrium.

Departments of Education, Housing and Urban Development, and Energy

The Department of Education oversees federal policy related to public education and federal loans and grants for education. However, it’s important to recognize that most public education policy in the United States is a matter of state and local policy. Rarely does the federal government get involved with matters of curriculum or school organization.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, oversees various aspects of US housing policy and the regulation of the mortgage system. The Federal Housing Administration is housed within HUD.

Like the Department of Education, many aspects of housing policy in the US are administered at state and local levels of government.

The Department of Energy oversees US policy related to energy, including sources of energy, pricing, security and safety regulation of utilities, and so forth.

Learn more about selective incorporation.

The Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Interior

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) oversees a variety of aspects of health care and related functions in government. The HHS includes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, both of which perform critical research functions for various diseases and illnesses.

Also, HHS houses the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, which regulates food safety, establishes guidelines for health, and administers procedures to bring pharmaceuticals to market.

The US Department of Interior oversees various aspects of land and water management in the country. The notable agencies housed at the Department of Interior include the US Geographical Survey, the National Park Service, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management.

The Department of Homeland Security

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is the youngest cabinet department. The impetus for creating this department came in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001. The DHS is home to the Secret Service.

Also housed at DHS is the Transportation Security Agency, which among other things, runs security screenings at US airports and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. In addition, DHS houses the US Coast Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA.

Learn more about the functioning of Congress.

The Department of Justice

Department of Justice written on a building wall.
The Department of Justice is the nation’s chief law enforcement agency. (Image: kenkistler/Shutterstock)

The Department of Justice is most notable for being the prosecutorial authority for federal crimes and as well as the nation’s chief law enforcement agency. It is headed by the attorney general.

The DOJ houses such agencies as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or FBI, and the Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA, which combats drug trafficking and distribution within the US.

The Department of Labor

The Department of Labor oversees labor policy and practices in the US. This Department houses the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which compiles data on industries, occupations, and employment in the US, in addition to highly useful economic statistics.

Also, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, is housed at the Department of Labor. OSHA is the agency responsible for regulating workplace safety and enforcing regulations intended to prevent abusive work practices.

The State Department

The State Department is responsible for United States’ international diplomacy.

It maintains relationships for formal government-level interactions between the United States and other nations. It also organizes and leads the US’s diplomatic missions, embassies, consulates, and ambassadors around the globe. The US Foreign Service is housed in the State Department.

The Department of Transportation

The Department of Transportation, or DOT, houses the Federal Aviation Administration, as well as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

DOT is involved with the construction and maintenance of federal transportation systems, including the interstate highway system, as well the safety of various transportation systems used by the public.

The Department of Treasury

The Department of Treasury is the center of revenue, taxation, and accounting for the federal government.

The Internal Revenue Service, or IRS, is housed at the Treasury Department; as is the US Mint, which manufactures coins and national medals, and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, which prints paper currency.

The Department of Veterans Affairs

The Department of Veterans Affairs handles all sorts of issues related to the needs of those who have previously served the US military and armed services.

The Veterans Health Administration includes a system of hospitals and health care providers for veterans; the Veterans Benefits Administration oversees benefits awarded to those who served the nation through military service; and the National Cemetery Administration, which provides burial space for veterans and maintains the national cemeteries.

Common Questions about the US Cabinet Departments

Q: Who heads the Justice Department of the United States government?

The Justice Department is headed by the attorney general of the United States.

Q: Which is the largest cabinet department in the United States government?

The Department of Defence is the largest cabinet department in the United States government.

Q: What does the Food and Drug Administration do?

The Food and Drug Administration regulates food safety, establishes guidelines for health, and administers procedures to bring pharmaceuticals to market.

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