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The Federal Bureaucracy

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The federal bureaucracy is huge: roughly 2.6 million employees, plus many freelance contractors. Everybody in the bureaucracy works to administer the law. For the most part, the executive branch manages the federal bureaucracy. Although the executive branch controls the majority of the federal bureaucracy, the legislative and judiciary branches also have some influence. Congress, for example, controls the Library of Congress, the Congressional Research Service, and the Government Accountability Office, among other bureaucracies. Through its power of oversight, Congress also monitors the federal bureaucracy to make sure that it acts properly. The courts sometimes get involved in the bureaucracy when issues of law and constitutionality arise, such as when a civil service regulation is violated or if an agency oversteps its jurisdiction.

There are five types of organizations in the federal bureaucracy:

  1. Cabinet departments
  2. Independent executive agencies
  3. Independent regulatory agencies
  4. Government corporations
  5. Presidential commissions

Cabinet Departments

The executive office consists of fifteen departments, as shown by the table on the next page. Each department is headed by a secretary.



Date Established

State 1789
Treasury 1789
Interior 1849
Justice 1870
Agriculture 1889
Commerce 1913
Labor 1913
Defense 1947
Housing and Urban Development 1965
Transportation 1967
Energy 1977
Health and Human Services 1979
Education 1979
Veterans’ Affairs 1988
Homeland Security 2002

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