The 15 Federal Executive Departments in the United States

Last updated on December 18th, 2023 at 07:27 pm


There are 15 federal executive departments in the U.S. government, each of which is headed by a cabinet-level official.

The federal executive departments in the United States are similar to federal ministries in many countries around the world.

In this article, we’ll discuss the nature of governance in the U.S. comprising the three branches of government, list the U.S. federal executive departments and the number of federal agencies in the United States. We’ll cover everything you need to know about the making of the U.S executive departments.

The US Cabinet Departments photos shows The Capitol Dome
The US Capitol. Photo: Louis Velazquez

List of 15 Federal Executive Departments in the U.S

The U.S. federal executive departments are the primary units of the executive branch of the federal government of the United States.

The executive departments are responsible for carrying out the laws and policies of the federal government.

The Cabinet secretaries serve as advisors to the President on matters relating to their respective departments.

At the federal level politically referred to as Washington, D.C, the national government is divided into several smaller units, or departments, each with its own specific responsibilities.

15 executive departments are in the U.S., each with agencies to assist in implementing government policies.

Here is the list of  US executive departments in order of succession to the presidency:

  1. Department of State (DOS)
  2. Department of the Treasury (Treasury)
  3. Department of Defense (DOD)
  4. Department of Justice (DOJ)
  5. Department of the Interior (DOI)
  6. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
  7. Department of Commerce (DOC)
  8. Department of Labor (DOL)
  9. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
  10. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
  11. Department of Transportation (DOT)
  12. Department of Energy
  13. Department of Education
  14. Department of Veterans Affairs
  15. Department of Homeland Security

The function of the executive departments

The functions of the executive departments vary widely, but they generally include implementing federal laws and policies, managing federal programs and services, and regulating certain industries.

1) The Department of State (DOS) is responsible for conducting foreign relations and representing the United States abroad.

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2) The Department of Transportation is responsible for developing and implementing policies related to transportation and infrastructure.

3) The Department of Labor (DOL) is responsible for protecting the rights of workers and promoting job opportunities.

4) The Department of Defense (DOD) is responsible for providing military forces to defend the United States and its interests.

5) The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is responsible for developing and implementing policies related to housing and community development.

6) The Department of Energy (DOE) is responsible for developing and implementing policies related to energy and nuclear technology.

7) The Department of Commerce (DOC) is responsible for promoting economic growth and development, and it oversees a variety of programs and initiatives related to trade, industry, and technology.

8) The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is responsible for protecting the health of all Americans and providing essential human services.

9) The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is responsible for protecting the United States from terrorist attacks and other threats to national security.

10) The Department of Justice (DOJ) is responsible for enforcing federal laws and protecting the public from crime.

11) The Department of the Interior (DOI) is responsible for managing the nation’s natural resources, including national parks and public lands.

12) The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is responsible for providing benefits and services to veterans and their families.

13) The Department of the Treasury is responsible for managing the federal government’s finances, including collecting taxes and issuing currency.

14) The Department of Education (ED) is responsible for implementing federal education policies and providing financial assistance to states, local school districts, and postsecondary institutions.

15) The Department of Agriculture (USDA) is responsible for developing and executing federal policies related to farming, forestry, and food.

In addition to these departments, there are also several independent agencies and other entities that have a role in the federal government.

Some examples include the Environmental Protection Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

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How does governance work in the U.S.?

The United States has a federal system of government. The principle of federalism is built upon the division of power between the national government and the federating states, that is the 50 states in the U.S.

Branches of government in the U.S

The national government is made up of three branches:

  1. the legislative,
  2. the executive, and
  3. the judicial.

The Legislature

The legislative branch is responsible for making laws. The U.S practices bi-cameralism, meaning there are two houses:

  1. the Senate and
  2. the House of Representatives.

Senators are elected by the people of each state and serve six-year terms, while members of the House of Representatives are elected by the people of each state and serve two-year terms.

The Executive

The executive branch is responsible for enforcing the laws that are made by the legislative branch. The executive is headed by the President.

The U.S president is the head of state and head of government and the Commander-in-Chief of U.S Armed Forces.

The President is elected by the people for a four-year term and can be re-elected for a second term.

The Vice President is also a part of the executive branch and member of the U.S cabinet, and serves as the President’s assistant.

The federal executive departments are members of the executive arm of the government.

The activities of the executive departments are coordinated by secretaries (or ministers in some countries). We will come back to this in the later part of this article.

The Judiciary

The judicial branch is responsible for interpreting the laws and Constitution of the United States.

It is made up of the Supreme Court, which is the highest court in the land, and a system of lower federal courts. The Supreme Court is made up of nine justices, according to the Supreme Court of the United States.

The justices are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate.

Checks and balances in the U.S

The United States also has a system of checks and balances, which means that each branch of government has the power to limit the actions of the other branches.

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This helps to ensure that no one branch becomes too powerful and ensures that the government operates in a way that is accountable to the people.

Governance at the state level

In addition to the federal government, each state has its own government with its own constitution, laws, and institutions.

The Constitution of the United States gives states the power to govern themselves, but the federal government has the authority to override state laws if they conflict with national laws or the Constitution.

How many federal agencies are in the U.S?

There are 430 federal agencies in the United States, according to the information on the Federal Registrar, an official journal of the U.S government.

The breakdown of the list of agencies on the Federal Registrar shows that there are 229 agencies and 201 sub-agencies.

However, several questions have been raised concerning the actual total number of U.S. agencies. For instance, Federal Registrar says 434 agencies, but the list of the agencies and sub-agencies was 430 altogether at the time of publication.

Answering the same question in its July 2017 publication, Forbes noted no one can specifically say the actual number of federal agencies that exist in the U.S because even agencies of government list conflicting numbers on their sites.

For instance, the Unified Agenda says 61; the Administrative Conference of the U.S. says 115; the 2016 federal registrar index says 272; mentions 292; the U.S. government manual says it’s 316.

Our findings

A thorough analysis by our team found that there are 536 agencies and sub-agencies in the state using the list that is available on


The United States practices federalism with powers relying on the federal government and state governments.

There are three arms of government in the U.S: legislature, executive, and the judiciary

The executive arm has 15 federal executive departments supervised by the secretaries who are appointed by the president. The executive departments make up the U.S cabinet.

There are at least 430 federal agencies and sub-agencies in the U.S. that help in implementing the policies of the government.

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