Department of the Interior

Fact Box

United States Department of the Interior

Formed on March 3, 1849
Headquarters- Main Interior Building, 1849 C St NW, Washington, D.C.
Secretary of the Interior- Sally Jewell
Employees (2004) 71,436
Annual budget (2014) $11.3 billion

The Department of the Interior (DOI) is a cabinet-level agency of the federal government that focuses on conservation and use of federal lands. DOI is responsible for preserving the natural wonders of the American landscape for present and future generations to enjoy, while facilitating the development of public lands for use by mining and oil companies. The mission of Interior officials is to implement programs that offer recreational opportunities for all Americans, support American Indian and Alaska Native populations, conduct scientific research, provide stewardship of energy and mineral resources, foster sound use of land and water resources and conserve and protect fish and wildlife.
DOI is one of the oldest departments in the federal government, and it is also one of the largest revenue-generating operations, raising approximately $13 billion each year from energy, mineral, grazing, timber, recreation, land sales and other sources. Its dual missions of environmental preservation and economic development have sometimes worked at cross purposes, with endangered species often coming out on the short end. Numerous controversies have erupted involving DOI programs and officials, especially during the current administration of George W. Bush.


Although the Department of the Interior has been around for more than 150 years, it has not always been the government’s leading voice on American lands and conservation. In fact, when it was first created by Congress, Interior (originally known as the Home Department) was something of a “kitchen sink” department where various agencies were placed to address domestic matters of one kind or another. As a result, Interior was known during its early years as the “Department of Everything Else,” responsible for such things as the construction of Washington, DC’s water system, oversight of the District of Columbia jail, the colonization of freed slaves in Haiti, exploration of western wilderness, regulation of territorial governments, management of hospitals, universities and public parks, and basic responsibilities for Native Americans, public lands, patents and pensions.

While Interior managed its grab-bag assortment of duties during the 19th century, the federal government gradually developed other offices and programs that would in time become part of the latter-day Interior Department responsible for managing the country’s natural resources. Congress established the US Geological Survey (1879) to better examine American territories and terrain and the Bureau of Reclamation (1902) to construct dams and aqueducts in the west. The following year President Theodore Roosevelt established the first National Wildlife Refuge at Pelican Island, Florida, and later President Woodrow Wilson signed legislation creating the National Park Service in 1916. In between these two developments, the Bureau of Mines was created in 1910 to promote the mining industry and improve safety for miners.
During the 1940s, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was created from the Bureau of Fisheries and the Bureau of Biological Survey, and the Interior Department’s General Land Office and Grazing Service were merged into the Bureau of Land Management. By this time, Interior had begun to take on the shape of the department it is today.
Additional duties assigned to Interior in the subsequent decades were oversight of Guam, American Samoa and the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (1950-51)(which has since divided into The Republic of the Marshall Islands, The Federated State of Micronesia and The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands), management of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (1977) to monitor state regulation of strip coal mining and repair of environmental damage and the Minerals Management Service (1982) to facilitate mineral revenue collection and manage the Outer Continental Shelf offshore lands.
Throughout its history, Interior has had leaders that have drawn public attention, for better or worse, to the department. During the administration of President Warren G. Harding, Interior Secretary Albert B. Fall was implicated in the biggest political scandal of the day - the Teapot Dome Scandal - in which Fall accepted bribes for leasing federal lands to two oilmen.
During the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Interior was run by Secretary Harold Ickes (the department’s longest serving leader), described by one historian as “a remarkably complex and profoundly suspicious man who thrived on rancorous debate and unending controversy. Ickes was known to intimidate those he worked with and even hired private investigators to tap the telephones of employees. Ickes was also credited with helping shape the department into the conservation-oriented operation it is today.
President John F. Kennedy’s secretary, Stewart Udall, continued to expand what Ickes began in making the department a leader in preserving America’s natural treasures. During his eight years in office, spanning the Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson administrations, Udall promoted the passage of the Federal Clean Air Act of 1963, the Wilderness Act of 1964, the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965, the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (PDF), the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968 and amendments strengthening the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1956. Among Udall’s other initiatives expanding Interior’s role and influence beyond its traditional western focus were the establishment of four national seashores along the Atlantic coast, major pollution abatement efforts on Lake Erie and the Hudson, Delaware and Potomac rivers and a highly publicized National Capital beautification campaign sponsored by Lady Bird Johnson.
The Republican administrations of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan did not embrace the eco-friendly mission of Interior. Nixon appointed former Alaska governor Walter Hickel to run the department, even though his record had a pro-development bent, while Reagan appointed one of Interior’s most infamous secretaries: James Watt. During his short tenure, Watt became a lightning rod for criticism from environmentalists because of his anti-conservation policies that promoted the use of federal lands by timber, oil and mining companies and ranchers. For more than two decades, Watt held the record for going the longest without adding an animal or plant to the endangered species list: 376 days. (The record was broken by Dirk Kempthorne, President George W. Bush’s second Interior secretary, who went two years and five days without listing a single species.)
Other noted Interior secretaries include Bruce Babbit (Clinton administration), who worked to protect scenic and historic areas of America’s federal public lands. Babbitt pushed for the creation of the National Landscape Conservation System, a collection of 15 national monuments and 14 national conservation areas. Babbitt was also the focus of a federal grand jury investigation into whether he had lied to Congress about having denied an Indian casino license in Wisconsin in return for political donations. Babbitt was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing.
Following Babbitt was Gale A. Norton, President Bush’s first Interior secretary and the first woman to ever run the department.

What it Does

The Department of the Interior (DOI) is one of the oldest cabinet-level departments of the federal government, responsible for programs that manage America’s natural resources and preserve its environment. DOI essentially stewards the lands, waters and species of the United States so that the country can enjoy its natural beauty while also exploiting the precious minerals and fossil fuels contained within the Earth. Interior officials oversee National Parks and other government-designated sanctuaries, enforce laws protecting threatened species of fish and animal life, manage key water supplies that Western urban centers and farmers rely on, monitor mining activities and implement programs affecting Native American and Alaskans, including tribal gambling operations.

Key DOI offices:
Conservation and Commercial Exploitation
National Park Service NPS is responsible for overseeing, maintaining and preserving the National Park System, comprised of 391 areas covering more than 84 million acres. These areas include national parks, monuments, battlefields, military parks, historical parks, historic sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas, and scenic rivers and trails. Notable areas such as the White House, the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty and Gettysburg are also under NPS administration. In addition to the national park system, the agency also oversees the National Historic Landmarks program and the National Register of Historic Places, including more than 8,000 monuments and statues. NPS offers grants and assistance to register, record and save historic lands and locations, to create community parks and recreation facilities, as well as conserve waterways and wildlife and develop trails and greenways.
Fish and Wildlife Service FWS serves as one of the most important federal agencies in the effort to protect endangered species and preserve habitats. FWS oversees a significant number of programs that seek to ensure the viability of coastal ecosystems, bird habitats and migratory routes, and freshwater and saltwater bodies of water for fish species. Along with the National Marine Fisheries Service, FWS is charged with implementing the Endangered Species Act. For much of its history, the agency has been a respected steward of the environment. However, under the leadership of appointees by President George W. Bush, the Fish and Wildlife Service has been routinely criticized by scientists and environmentalists for short-cutting important efforts to protect species threatened with extinction.
Bureau of Land Management BLM is responsible for managing the United States’ public lands. BLM oversees the use and conservation of 258 million acres, most of which is located in the American West and Alaska. A key responsibility of BLM is the issuance of leases to corporate interests to extract oil, natural gas and minerals from beneath public lands. This natural resource development, in effect since the 19th century, has left wide areas of American wilderness damaged by the effects of drilling and mining and provoked protests from environmental groups opposed to future oil, gas and mining activities in sensitive areas.
Bureau of Reclamation This section of the Interior Department is all about dams and ambitious water projects. During the 20th Century, Reclamation was responsible for building some of the nation’s most ambitious dam projects and for helping shape the American West. Because of the hundreds of dams the bureau created, Reclamation is the largest wholesaler of water in the United States, responsible for bringing water to more than 31 million people and hundreds of farms. Also, the bureau is the second largest producer of hydroelectric power in the western United States, managing 58 power plants. Its legacy of dam building has made the bureau a magnet for controversy, both during its heyday of large water projects and today as ecosystems and fish species struggle to survive downstream of river diversions.
Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement OSM charged with the competing tasks of promoting coal production in the US while also trying to protect and restore the land that has been ravaged by surface, or strip, mining. For the most part, OSM has been successful in implementing task No. 1 and failed miserably at task No. 2. The agency has long been viewed as a favored ally of the coal industry, much to the frustration of environmentalists and local activists in states like Kentucky and West Virginia.
Minerals Management Service MMS manages the natural gas, oil and other mineral resources on the US outer continental shelf (OCS). MMS is responsible for collecting revenues generated from government leases of OCS lands as well as onshore mineral leases on federal and Native American lands to private oil and gas companies. These lease revenues represent some of the most important non-tax revenue that the federal government collects. However, MMS received bipartisan criticism in 2006 and 2007 for not fully collecting royalty payments from oil and gas companies.
Natural Resources Damage Assessment and Restoration Program NRDAR works in partnership with state, tribal and federal agencies to determine the adverse impacts caused by oil spills or hazardous substance releases to natural resources managed by the Interior Department. The program then negotiates a settlement with those responsible, or, if the accused party won’t settle, takes them to court, to garner funds for use in the restoration process, which the restoration program implements.
Native Americans
Bureau of Indian Affairs BIA is responsible for the administration and management of 55.7 million acres of land held in trust by the United States for American Indians, Indian tribes and Alaska Natives. Although there are 561 federally recognized tribal governments, it is BIA that controls the development of forestlands, leasing assets on these lands, directing agricultural programs, protecting water and land rights, and developing and maintaining infrastructure and economic development. BIA responsibilities and programs include the management of Indian trust accounts; tribal legitimacy; education; land management and resource protection; law enforcement; land consolidation; and the dispersion of certain federal grants.
Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians OST oversees the management and accountability of policies and practices regarding Indian funds held in trust by the federal government. OST manages approximately $2.5 billion in tribal funds and more than $400 million in Individual Indian Money (IIM) Accounts. It handles nearly $460 million in annual receipts and issues more than 513,000 checks per year. OST is entrusted with protecting and preserving the IIM assets and collecting and accurately accounting for income due. In addition, it is responsible for Indian land valuations, making estimates of market value for real property interests on land owned in trust or restricted status. Two years after it was created, OST was sued by a Native American woman claiming that potentially billions of dollars held since the late 1800s in trust for hundreds of thousands of Indians were accounted for improperly. The case is still pending.
National Indian Gaming Commission NIGC s an independent federal regulatory agency that monitors the work of Native American tribe’s gaming regulators, aiming to insure that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act is adhered to and promoting economic development and self-sufficiency within the tribes. Solely funded through fees collected from gaming operations under its jurisdiction, NIGC conducts investigations, background checks and audits; undertakes enforcement activities; approves ordinances before gaming can occur; and issues notices of violation and closure orders. It also works to stay on top of new innovations, ideas, and changes in technology, and provides training to the Indian gaming industry and regulators. In the mid-1990s, Republican lobbyist and businessman Jack Abramoff began representing some tribes with gambling interests, for which he received more than $85 million. It was eventually revealed that Abramoff had broken the law and he pleaded guilty to felony counts of conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion.  
US Geological Survey USGS is a fact-finding agency that collects and provides scientific data about natural resource conditions, issues and challenges facing the country and the federal government. Originally founded in an effort to map and survey the US territories, today’s USGS program areas include biology, geography, geology, geospace and water. As a federal agency with a mandate for objective scientific study, the USGS often finds itself in the crossfire of political debates—over global warming, nuclear waste and nature/wildlife conservation.
Office of Insular Affairs OIA has administrative responsibility for coordinating federal policy in the territories of American Samoa, Guam, the US Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, as well as the oversight of federal programs and funds in the freely associated states of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau. Additionally, OIA exercises some control in two of the nine smaller insular areas of Palmyra and the Wake Atolls. 

Where Does the Money Go?

The Interior Department has spent $28.6 billion on contractors this decade, according to More than 111,000 companies and organizations received Interior funds to provide telecommunications services, research and development, facility operations and maintenance, and engineering and technical services, among functions.

The biggest spenders within Interior were the Office of Policy, Management and Budget/Chief Financial Officer ($9.1 billion), Minerals Management Service ($5.2 billion), National Park Service ($4.3 billion), Bureau of Land Management ($2.4 billion) and Bureau of Reclamation ($2.2 billion).
The biggest recipients of contracts were:        
SAIC, Inc.
Northrop Grumman
Booz Allen Hamilton Inc.
Nana Regional Corp.
Cherryroad GT Inc.
Dell Inc.
Motorola, Inc.
BAE Systems PLC
In addition to contracts, the Interior Department distributes millions of dollars in grants to help preserve endangered species. The Fish and Wildlife Service is one of the main distributors of such grants to state and local governments. In May 2008, the Fish and Wildlife Service awarded state and territorial wildlife agencies more than $60 million to help conserve and recover imperiled wildlife through the State Wildlife Grant Program.
In January 2008, FWS announced the release of $20.5 million in National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grants to fund 29 conservation projects encompassing nearly 10,000 acres of coastal wetlands. The grants are used to support coastal wetlands to provide long-term conservation benefits to fish, wildlife and habitat in California, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, Texas, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Maine, Maryland and Massachusetts, along with Puerto Rico.
The Fish and Wildlife Service also gave out more than $13.6 million in grants to 27 states under the Clean Vessel Act grant program in April 2008. The grants help fund the construction and installation of sewage pumpout facilities and floating restrooms and to purchase pumpout boats and for educational programs for recreational boaters.

Data for Department of the Interior