DEPARTMENT OF LABOR
The Department of Labor promotes the welfare of wage earners in the United States, helps improve working conditions and fosters good relations between labor and management. It administers more than 130 federal labor laws through such agencies as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Employment Standards Administration and the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Among its responsibilities are: guaranteeing workers' rights to safe and healthy working conditions; establishing minimum hourly wages and overtime pay; prohibiting employment discrimination; and providing for unemployment insurance and compensation for on-the-job injury. It also protects workers' pension rights, sponsors job training programs and helps workers find jobs. Its Bureau of Labor Statistics monitors and reports changes in employment, prices and other national economic measurements. For job seekers, the department makes special efforts to help older workers, youths, minorities, women and the handicapped.
DEPARTAMENT OF STATE
The Department of State advises the president, who has overall responsibility for formulating and executing the foreign policy of the United States. The department assesses American overseas interests, makes recommendations on policy and future action, and takes necessary steps to carry out established policy. It maintains contacts and relations between the United States and foreign countries, advises the president on recognition of new foreign countries and governments, negotiates treaties and agreements with foreign nations, and speaks for the United States in the United Nations and in more than 50 other major international organizations. As-of 1988, the department supervised 141 embassies and 113 missions or consulates in foreign nations.
DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
The Department of Transportation (DOT) was created in 1966 by consolidating land, sea and air transportation functions scattered thoughout eight separate departments and agencies. DOT establishes the nation's overall transportation policy through nine operating units that encompass highway planning, development and construction; urban mass transit; railroads; civilian aviation; and the safety of waterways, ports, highways, and oil and gas pipelines. For example, the Federal Aviation Administration operates more than 350 air traffic control facilities across the country; the Federal Highway Administration is responsible for the 68,000-kilometer interstate highway system; the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration establishes safety and fuel economy standards for motor vehicles; and the Maritime Administration operates the U.S. merchant marine fleet. The U.S. Coast Guard, the nation's primary maritime law enforcement and licensing agency, conducts search and rescue missions at sea, combats drug smuggling and works to prevent oil spills and ocean pollution.
DEPARTMENT OFTHE TREASURY
The Department of the Treasury is responsible for serving the fiscal and monetary needs of the nation. The department performs four basic functions: formulating financial, tax and fiscal policies; serving as financial agent for the U.S. government; providing specialized law enforcement services; and manufacturing coins and currency. The Treasury Department reports to Congress and the president on the financial condition of the government and the national economy. It regulates the sale of alcohol, tobacco and firearms in interstate and foreign commerce; supervises the printing of stamps for the U.S. Postal Service; operates the Secret Service, which protects the president, the vice president, their families, and visiting dignitaries and heads of state; suppresses counterfeiting of U.S. currency and securities; and administers the Customs Service, which regulates and taxes the flow of goods into the country. The department includes the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Treasury official who executes the laws governing the operation of approximately 4,600 banks; and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which administers tax laws—the source of most of the federal government's revenue.
DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
The Department of Veterans Affairs, established as an independent agency in 1930 and elevated to Cabinet level in 1988, dispenses benefits and services to eligible veterans of U.S. military service and their dependents. The medicine and surgery department provides hospital and nursing home care, and outpatient medical and dental services through 172 medical centers, 16 retirement homes, 228 clinics and 116 nursing homes in the United States, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. It also supports veterans under care in hospitals and nursing homes in 35 states. The veterans benefits department oversees claims for disability, pensions, specially adapted housing and other services. This department also administers education programs for veterans, and provides housing credit assistance to eligible veterans and active-duty service personnel. The memorial affairs department administers the National Cemetery System, providing burial services, headstones and markers to eligible veterans and their spouses within specially designated cemeteries throughout the United States.
THE INDEPENDENT AGENCIES
The executive departments are the major operating units of | the federal government, but there are many other agencies which have important responsibilities for keeping the government and the economy working smoothly. These are often called independent agencies, since they are not part of the executive departments. The nature and purpose of these agencies vary widely. Some are regulatory groups, with powers to supervise certain sectors of the economy. Others provide special services, either to the government or to the people. In most cases, the agencies have been created by Congress to deal with matters that have become too complex for the scope of ordinary legislation. The Interstate Commerce Commission, for example, was established by Congress in 1887 to curb the growing power of the railroads. In recent years, however, a trend toward deregulation of the economy has altered the functions of many federal regulatory bodies. Among the most important independent agencies are the following:
action is the principal federal agency for administering domestic volunteer service programs to meet basic human needs, and to support the self-help efforts of poor individuals and communities. Some of action's programs are Foster Grandparents, offering older Americans opportunities for close relationships with needy children; Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), which provides volunteers to work in poor communities; and Student Community Service Projects, which encourages students to volunteer in their communities as part of their education.
central intelligence agency (cia) coordinates intelligence activities of certain government departments and agencies; collects, correlates and evaluates intelligence information relating to national security; and makes recommendations to the National Security Council.
environmental protection agency (epa), founded in 1970, works with state and local governments throughout the United States to control and abate pollution in the air and water, and to deal with the problems of solid waste, pesticides, radiation and toxic substances. EPA sets and enforces standards for air and water quality, evaluates the impact of pesticides and chemical substances, and manages the so-called "Superfund" program for cleaning toxic waste sites.
the federal communications commission licenses the operation of radio and television stations and regulates interstate telephone and telegraph services. It sets rates for interstate communications services, assigns radio frequencies, and administers international communications treaties.
the federal reserve system supervises the private banking system of the United States. It regulates the volume of credit and money in circulation. The Federal Reserve performs many of the functions of central banks in other countries, such as issuing paper currency; unlike central banks, however, it does not act as the depository of the country's gold reserve.
the federal trade commission guards against trade abuses and unfair business practices by conducting investigations and holding hearings on complaints.