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Washington, D.C.: Non-Cabinet Agencies Serve Important Needs

In addition to the Washington, D.C., departments that make up the Cabinet, a rather large number of independent or semi-independent agencies and institutions are also a part of any administration.

The exact number of agencies depends on how you define a federal agency, but any estimate of the total independent agencies, commissions, government corporations, and other entities would easily reach into the hundreds. Most fall under the executive branch, although a small number are classified as part of the legislative and judicial branches of government.

These institutions fulfill an extremely wide range of missions. For example, they

  • Supervise federal elections (Federal Election Commission)

  • Regulate the financial industry (Securities and Exchange Commission)

  • Manage the nation’s monetary policy (Federal Reserve System)

  • Ensure the safety of kids’ toys (Consumer Product Safety Commission)

  • Distribute Social Security checks (Social Security Administration)

  • Spy on foreign countries (Central Intelligence Agency)

  • Launch Americans into space (NASA)

  • Send Americans abroad to serve other nations (Peace Corps)

If you can’t find a pattern, that’s because one doesn’t exist. The federal government itself states merely that independent agencies and corporations “address concerns that go beyond the scope of ordinary legislation” and “are responsible for keeping the government and economy running smoothly.” In other words, they can be established by Congress to do pretty much anything.

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