United States federal executive departments

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"Executive Department" redirects here. For the idea of executive departments in general, see Cabinet (politics).

The United States federal executive departments are the primary units of the executive branch of the Federal government of the United States. They are analogous to ministries common in parliamentary or semi-presidential systems but (the United States being a presidential system) they are led by a head of government who is also the head of state. The executive departments are the administrative arms of the President of the United States. There are currently 15 executive departments.

The heads of the executive departments receive the title of Secretary of their respective department, except for the Attorney-General who is head of the Justice Department (and the Postmaster General who until 1971 was head of the Post Office Department). The heads of the executive departments are appointed by the President and take office after confirmation by the United States Senate, and serve at the pleasure of the President. The heads of departments are members of the Cabinet of the United States, an executive organ that normally acts as an advisory body to the President. In the Opinion Clause (Article II, section 2, clause 1) of the U.S. Constitution, heads of executive departments are referred to as "principal Officer in each of the executive Departments".

The heads of executive departments are included in the line of succession to the President, in the event of a vacancy in the presidency, after the Vice President, the Speaker of the House and the President pro tempore of the Senate.

Current executive departments[edit]

Departments are listed by their present-day name and only departments with past or present cabinet-level status are listed.

Order of
Notes 2009 Outlays
in billions
of dollars
State 1789[2] 4 Initially named "Department of Foreign Affairs" 16.39 18,900
Treasury 1789[3] 5 19.56 115,897
Justice 1870[4] 7 Attorney General created in 1789, but had no department until 1870 46.20 113,543
Interior 1849[5] 8 Took responsibility of offices previously managed by other departments, War, Treasury, and State, such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs, General Land Office, and United States Patent and Trademark Office that were seen as having little to do with their respective Departments. 90.00 71,436
Agriculture 1889[6] 9 Elevated to Cabinet level in 1889 134.12 109,832
Commerce 1903[7] 10 Originally named Commerce and Labor; Labor later separated 15.77 43,880[8]
Labor 1913[9] 11 137.97 17,347
Defense 1947[10] 6 Created by the National Security Act of 1947. Initially named "National Military Establishment" 1947-49. Created from a merger of the Department of War and Department of the Navy. 651.16 3,000,000
Health and Human Services 1953[9] 12 Originally the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare; Education later separated 879.20 67,000
Housing and Urban Development 1965[11] 13 40.53 10,600
Transportation 1966[12] 14 73.20 58,622
Energy 1977[13] 15 24.10 109,094
Education 1979[14] 16 45.40 4,487
Veterans Affairs 1989[15] 17 Formerly an independent agency as the Veterans Administration 97.70 235,000
Homeland Security 2002[16] 18 Created by the Homeland Security Act of 2002 40.00 240,000
Total outlays, employees:         2,311.30Bn 4,214,652

Past executive departments[edit]

Department Dates of Operation Notes
Department of War 1789–1947 Split into Department of the Army and Department of the Air Force in the National Security Act of 1947
Post Office Department 1792–1971 Reorganized as quasi-independent agency, United States Postal Service
Department of Commerce and Labor 1903–1913 Divided between Department of Commerce and Department of Labor
Department of the Army 1947–1949 From 1947 to 1949, these departments were executive departments with non-cabinet level secretaries who reported to the civilian Secretary of Defense with cabinet rank but no department. From 1949 on, they were Military Departments within the Department of Defense[17]
Department of the Navy 1798–1949
Department of the Air Force 1947–1949
Department of Health, Education, and Welfare 1953–1979 Divided between Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Education

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wilson, Reid (October 20, 2013). "The Presidential order of succession". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved November 10, 2015. 
  2. ^ "Office of the Historian - Milestones - 1776-1783 - Articles of Confederation". History.state.gov. Retrieved 2012-12-29. 
  3. ^ "History". Treasury.gov. 2012-10-22. Retrieved 2012-12-29. 
  4. ^ "USDOJ: About DOJ". Justice.gov. 2009-09-30. Retrieved 2012-12-29. 
  5. ^ "History of Interior". Doi.gov. Retrieved 2012-12-29. 
  6. ^ http://www.usda.gov/documents/timeline.pdf
  7. ^ "Secretaries | Department of Commerce". Commerce.gov. Retrieved 2012-12-29. 
  8. ^ "Department of Commerce FY 2009 Budget in Brief". Osec.doc.gov. Retrieved 2012-12-29. 
  9. ^ a b "The U.S. Department of Labor Historical Timeline - U.S. Department of Labor". Dol.gov. Retrieved 2012-12-29. 
  10. ^ "About The Department of Defense (DOD)". Defense.gov. Retrieved 2012-12-29. 
  11. ^ "HUD History/U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)". Portal.hud.gov. Retrieved 2012-12-29. 
  12. ^ [1] Archived August 9, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  13. ^ "Department of Energy Organization Act" (PDF). U.S. Department of the Interior. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. August 4, 1977. 
  14. ^ "Overview and Mission Statement | U.S. Department of Education". .ed.gov. Retrieved 2012-12-29. 
  15. ^ Department of Veterans Affairs. "History - VA History - About VA". Va.gov. Retrieved 2012-12-29. 
  16. ^ "Creation of the Department of Homeland Security | Homeland Security". Dhs.gov. Retrieved 2012-12-29. 
  17. ^ Stewart, Richard W., ed. (2005). "Chapter 24: Peace Becomes Cold War, 1945-1950". American Military History. Army Historical Series. II. United States Army. pp. 531–533. Retrieved 2011-03-23. 


External Links[edit]