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What does the United States Department of the Interior do?

By Henry Gaudet
Updated Feb 18, 2024
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The United States Department of the Interior is responsible for managing federal lands and territories along with natural resources and energy conservation. Programs relating to Native American populations also fall under the department’s management. Its policies affect mining, energy, wildlife and research, and its broad mission has earned it the tongue-in-cheek title of the “Department of Everything Else.”

Officials with the Department of the Interior are required to cover a lot of ground, literally and figuratively. About one-fifth of the U.S. is under federal management, mostly in the western states and Alaska. The National Park Service, Bureau of Reclamation, Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service and Office of Surface Mining are all agencies within this department.

Lands under department control provide about one-third of the nation’s fossil fuels. Coal, oil and natural gas are produced by private businesses leasing land from the government. Federally owned land also provides half of all geothermal power generated in the U.S.

Environmental responsibility does not end at the water’s edge. The United States Department of the Interior also manages the responsible use of ocean resources. Wildlife conservation, regulation and inspection of offshore drilling facilities and protection of water quality are the responsibility of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement. Until 2010, this agency was named the Minerals Management Service, but that year’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico exposed lax policies and prompted the government to make changes within the agency.

Freshwater resources also fall under the department’s control. The Bureau of Reclamation is responsible for hundreds of dams and reservoirs across the country. Water from these projects provides irrigation for one-fifth of all farmers in western states. Studies by the United States Geological Survey test surface water and drinking water in all 50 states. Wildlife conservation of fish and waterfowl falls under the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

Native American issues are addressed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Bureau responsibilities include management of tribal lands and natural resources, administration of existing treaties, social services, law enforcement, mediation, disaster relief and public works. More than 1.9 million people, including natives of the continental U.S., Alaska and Hawaii benefit from the bureau’s resources. In the 21st century, the role of the Bureau of Indian Affairs has shifted from an administrative and managerial role to an advising role as the Native American populations have taken up more self-governing responsibilities.

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