United States federal executive departments

The United States federal executive departments are among the oldest primary units of the executive branch of the federal government of the United Statesthe Departments of State, War, and the Treasury all having been established within a few weeks of each other in 1789.

Federal executive departments are analogous to ministries common in parliamentary or semi-presidential systems but, with the United States being a presidential system, their heads otherwise equivalent to ministers, do not form a government (in a parliamentary sense) nor are they led by a head of government separate from the head of state. The heads of the federal executive departments, known as secretaries of their respective department, form the traditional Cabinet of the United States, an executive organ that serves at the disposal of the president and normally acts as an advisory body to the presidency.

Since 1792, by statutory specification, the cabinet constituted a line of succession to the presidency, after the Speaker of the House and the president pro tempore of the Senate, in the event of a vacancy in both the presidency and the vice presidency. The Constitution refers to these officials when it authorizes the President, in Article II, section 2, to "require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices." In brief, they and their organizations are the administrative arms of the President.

Executive Departments of the present

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

The order of succession includes:

  1. the Vice President as the first in line;
  2. the Speaker of the House; and
  3. the President pro tempore of the Senate.
Order of
Notes 2009 Outlays
in billions
of dollars
State 1789[1] 4 Initially named "Department of Foreign Affairs" 16.39 18,900
Treasury 1789[2] 5 19.56 115,897
Justice 1870[3] 7 Attorney General created in 1789, but had no department until 1870 46.20 113,543
Interior 1849[4] 8 90.00 71,436
Agriculture 1862[5] 9 134.12 109,832
Commerce 1903[6] 10 Originally named Commerce and Labor; Labor later separated 15.77 43,880[7]
Labor 1913[8] 11 137.97 17,347
Defense 1947[9] 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[8] 12 Originally the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare; Education later separated 879.20 67,000
Housing and Urban Development 1965[10] 13 40.53 10,600
Transportation 1966[11] 14 73.20 58,622
Energy 1977[12] 15 24.10 109,094
Education 1980[13] 16 45.40 4,487
Veterans Affairs 1989[14] 17 Formerly an independent agency as the Veterans Administration 97.70 235,000
Homeland Security 2002[15] 18 Created by the Homeland Security Act of 2002 40.00 240,000
Total outlays, employees:         2,311.30B 4,214,652


Executive Departments of the past

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 1947-1949, 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[16]
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



  1. "Office of the Historian - Milestones - 1776-1783 - Articles of Confederation". History.state.gov. Retrieved 2012-12-29.
  2. "History". Treasury.gov. 2012-10-22. Retrieved 2012-12-29.
  3. "USDOJ: About DOJ". Justice.gov. 2009-09-30. Retrieved 2012-12-29.
  4. "History of Interior". Doi.gov. Retrieved 2012-12-29.
  5. http://www.usda.gov/documents/timeline.pdf
  6. "Secretaries | Department of Commerce". Commerce.gov. Retrieved 2012-12-29.
  7. "Department of Commerce FY 2009 Budget in Brief". Osec.doc.gov. Retrieved 2012-12-29.
  8. 1 2 "The U.S. Department of Labor Historical Timeline - U.S. Department of Labor". Dol.gov. Retrieved 2012-12-29.
  9. "About The Department of Defense (DOD)". Defense.gov. Retrieved 2012-12-29.
  10. "HUD History/U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)". Portal.hud.gov. Retrieved 2012-12-29.
  11. Archived August 9, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  12. "Department of Energy Organization Act" (PDF). U.S. Department of the Interior. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. August 4, 1977.
  13. "Overview and Mission Statement | U.S. Department of Education". .ed.gov. Retrieved 2012-12-29.
  14. Department of Veterans Affairs. "History - VA History - About VA". Va.gov. Retrieved 2012-12-29.
  15. "Creation of the Department of Homeland Security | Homeland Security". Dhs.gov. Retrieved 2012-12-29.
  16. 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.


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