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United States Department of Interior

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United States Department of Interior

United States
Department of the Interior
Seal of the U.S. Department of the Interior
Flag of the U.S. Department of the Interior
Agency overview
Formed March 3, 1849 (1849-03-03) (165 years ago)
Headquarters

Employees 71,436 (2004)
Annual budget $20 billion (2010)
Agency executives Sally Jewell, Secretary
David J. Hayes, Deputy Secretary
Website

The United States Department of the Interior (DOI) is the United States federal executive department of the U.S. government responsible for the management and conservation of most federal land and natural resources, and the administration of programs relating to American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, territorial affairs, and insular areas of the United States.

The Department is administered by the United States Secretary of the Interior, who is a member of the Cabinet of the President. The current Secretary is Sally Jewell. There is not currently an appointed Inspector General. Mary Kendall is the acting Inspector General [1]

Despite its name, the Department of the Interior has a different role from that of the interior ministries of other nations, which are usually responsible for routine police functions which are largely performed in the U.S. by state and local governments and national security and immigration functions which are performed by the Department of Homeland Security primarily and the Department of Justice secondarily.

The Department has often been humorously called "The Department of Everything Else" because of its broad range of responsibilities.[2]

History

A department for domestic concern was first considered by the 1st United States Congress in 1789, but those duties were placed in the Department of State. The idea of a separate domestic department continued to percolate for a half-century and was supported by Presidents from James Madison to James Polk. The 1846-48 Mexican-American War gave the proposal new steam as the responsibilities of federal government grew. Polk's Secretary of the Treasury, Robert J. Walker, became a vocal champion of creating the new department.

In 1849, Walker stated in his annual report that several federal offices were placed in departments with which they had little to do. He noted that the General Land Office had little to do with the Treasury and also highlighted the Indian Affairs office, part of the Department of War, and the Patent Office, part of the Department of State. Walker argued that these and other bureaus should be brought together in a new Department of the Interior.

A bill authorizing its creation of the Department passed the House of Representatives on February 15, 1849, and spent just over two weeks in the Senate. The Department was established on March 3, 1849 (9 Stat. 395), the eve of President Zachary Taylor's inauguration, when the Senate voted 31 to 25 to create the Department. Its passage was delayed by Democrats in Congress who were reluctant to create more patronage posts for the incoming Whig administration to fill. The first Secretary of the Interior was Thomas Ewing.

Many of the domestic concerns the Department originally dealt with were gradually transferred to other Departments. Other agencies became separate Departments, such as the Bureau of Agriculture, which later became the Department of Agriculture. However, land and natural resource management, American Indian affairs, wildlife conservation, and territorial affairs remain the responsibilities of the Department of the Interior.

As of mid-2004, the Department managed 507 million acres (2,050,000 km²) of surface land, or about one-fifth of the land in the United States. It manages 476 dams and 348 reservoirs through the Bureau of Reclamation, 388 national parks, monuments, seashore sites, etc. through the National Park Service, and 544 national wildlife refuges through the Fish and Wildlife Service. Energy projects on federally managed lands and offshore areas supply about 28% of the nation's energy production.

American Indians

Within the Interior Department, the Bureau of Indian Affairs handles some federal relations with Native Americans, while others are handled by the Office of Special Trustee. The current Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs is Kevin K. Washburn, an enrolled member of the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma.

The Department has been the subject of disputes over proper accounting for Indian Trusts set up to track the income and pay-out of monies that are generated by trust and restricted Native American lands, which the government leased for fees to oil, timber, minerals, and other companies. Several cases have sought accounting of such funds from the departments of Interior (in which the Minerals Management Service also has a role) and Treasury in what has been a 15-year-old lawsuit. In addition, some Native American nations have sued the government over water-rights issues and their treaties with the US. In 2010 Congress passed the Claims Settlement Act of 2010 (Public Law 111-291), which provided $3.4 billion for the settlement of the Cobell v. Salazar class-action trust case and four Indian water-rights cases.[3]

"The $3.4 billion will be placed in a still-to-be-selected bank and $1.4 billion will go to individuals, mostly in the form of checks ranging from $500 to $1,500. A small group, such as members of the Osage tribe who benefit from huge Oklahoma oil revenues, will get far more, based on a formula incorporating their 10 highest years of income between 1985 and 2009. As important, $2 billion will be used to buy trust land from Indian owners at fair market prices, with the government finally returning the land to tribes. Nobody can be forced to sell."[4]

Operating units

Controversy

Secretary of the Interior Albert B. Fall was implicated in the Teapot Dome scandal of 1921. He was convicted of bribery in 1929, and served one year in prison, for his part in the controversy. A major factor in the scandal was a transfer of certain oil leases from the jurisdiction of the Department of the Navy to that of the Department of the Interior, at Fall's behest.

Secretary of the Interior James G. Watt—already facing criticism related to his alleged hostility to environmentalism and his support of the development and use of federal lands by foresting, ranching, and other commercial interests, and for banning The Beach Boys from playing a 1983 Independence Day concert on the National Mall out of concerns of attracting "an undesirable element"—resigned abruptly after a September 21, 1983, speech in which he said about his staff: "I have a black, a woman, two Jews and a cripple. And we have talent."[5] Within weeks of making this statement, Watt submitted his resignation letter.[5][6]

Under the Administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, the Interior Department's maintenance backlog climbed from $5 billion to $8.7 billion, despite Bush's campaign pledges to eliminate it completely. Of the agency under Bush's leadership, Interior Department Inspector General Earl Devaney has cited a "culture of fear" and of "ethical failure." Devaney has also said, "Simply stated, short of a crime, anything goes at the highest levels of the Department of Interior."[7]

See also

  • United States environmental policy
  • America's Great Outdoors Initiative

References

Further reading

  • Crimes Against Nature by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. (2004)
  • Utley, Robert M. and Barry Mackintosh; The Department of Everything Else, Highlights of Interior History; Dept of the Interior, Washington, D.C.; 1989

External links

  • United States Department of the Interior Official Website
  • The Department of Everything Else: Highlights of Interior History
  • Indian Trust: Cobell V. Kempthorne
  • RSS Feed
  • New York Times, September 10, 2008
  • Center for Biological Diversity v Dept of the Interior April 17, 2009 DC Appellate Decision stopping offshore Alaska Oil Leases.
  • Proposed and finalized federal regulations from the United States Department of the Interior
  • The Washington Post
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