The Department of the Interior (DOI) is an executive branch of the United States government that holds a variety of responsibilities related to environmental conservation, land management and cultural affairs. Firstly, these responsibilities include the management of public lands, national parks, and wildlife refuges. In addition, DOI also assists in the administration of Indian and Alaskan tribal affairs. The Secretary of the Interior leads the DOI and is a part of the president’s Cabinet. The current secretary is Sally Jewell and the deputy secretary is Michael L. Conner.
The thought of a having a department to handle domestic affairs was first introduced by Congress in 1789, but it didn’t become official until March 3, 1849, under James Polk’s administration. The main advocate for the DOI was Polk’s Secretary of the Treasury, Robert Walker. He noted the fact that several departments were placed where they didn’t belong and that it would make more sense to merge them together into the DOI.
It became a melting pot of several departments, including the Department of the Treasury, the Department of State, the Indian Affairs Office, and the War and Navy Departments. In essence, the fact that the DOI is in charge of a multitude of offices led to its nickname, the “Department of Everything Else.” The following is a breakdown of the structure of the DOI and a brief description of department duties.
Fish, Wildlife, and Parks
The department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWS) oversees the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Above all, its goal is to ensure the protection of wildlife and endangered species and the preservation of environmental habitats.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) handles over fifty million acres of Native American and Alaskan Native lands. Although tribes have their own governments set up to handle their affairs, the BIA aids in handling trusts, land management, and enforcement, among other things.
Land and Minerals Management
The agency of Land and Minerals Management includes four different offices: the Bureau of Land Management, the Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation and Enforcement, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. For example, programs involve taking care of over 250 million acres of public land, the safe production of coal, renewable energy, and safe environmental practices, respectively.
Water and Science
The U.S. Geological Service (USGS) and the Bureau of Reclamation are both included in Water and Science. For instance, the Bureau of Reclamation manages dams, hydroelectric power, and other large water projects. The USGS is a research, science-based agency that creates projects to collect data in a variety of areas including geology, water and biology.
In addition, the agency manages federal affairs in the United States’ outer island areas, including:
- U.S. Virgin Islands
- Mariana Islands
- Marshall Island
In conclusion, the Department of the Interior may be the “Department of Everything Else”. However, it is crucial in the protection of our lands, our environment and our domestic relationships.