Getting to Know Government: The Basics

It’s now common knowledge that AU students are the most politically active in the United States. Even still, it’s easy to forget the organizing structure of the federal government and how you might learn more about the agencies under it.

In advance of Federal Careers Week, here is a quick civics lesson to brush up on your knowledge of the federal government.

As you’ll likely remember, the federal government is divided into three branches: the Executive, Legislative and Judicial. For the purposes of Federal Careers Week, we’ll focus most of our attention of the Executive Branch.

The sections below will give you an overview of the structure of the Executive Branch (and at the very bottom, a link to some agencies that support Congress). This basic overview will provide you with some context for the panel presentations during Federal Careers Week.

The Cabinet

Created in Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, the Cabinet – consisting of 15 heads of Executive Branch departments – plays a vital role in advising the President of the United States. The Cabinet agencies are:

Each of these departments has a mission at the heart of what it does. And each has a series of smaller offices that focus on very specific aspects of the overall mission. For example, the Department of Homeland Security includes Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Secret Service, among others, that address specific aspects of homeland security.

Independent Agencies

In addition to Cabinet departments, there are also a group of independent agencies that serve the American public. Created by Congress, these agencies exist to address issues beyond the realm of the Cabinet departments listed above.

There are many independent agencies in the federal government, and each has a unique mission. Examples of independent agencies include the CIA, NASA, Peace Corps and the Postal Service. Visit this website for a full listing.

Agencies Supporting Congress (Legislative Branch)

The Legislative Branch also has agencies supporting its work. Much like those in the Executive Branch, these agencies focus their work around their missions.

Examples of agencies supporting Congress include the Government Accountability Office, Congressional Budget Office and Government Printing Office, among others. Agencies under the Legislative Branch give unique insight into the workings of the entire federal government.

In Conclusion…

Even in this brief blog posting, it’s easy to see how one can be confused by the structure of the federal government and the myriad of agencies in it. The key is to find agencies that work on issues you care about and focus on identifying the opportunities they offer. So, use this posting as a starting place to identify agencies of potential interest to you and do some more research.

And, don’t forget to keep checking this blog for more information to help you prepare for Federal Careers Week.