Department of the Interior

 Department of the Interior in the United States

Introduction to Department of the Interior

Department of the Interior, executive department of the United States government, established by Congress in 1849. The department is headed by a secretary appointed by the president with the approval of the Senate.

During its long existence, the department’s function has changed from that of performing housekeeping duties for the government to its present role as custodian of natural resources. As the nation’s principal conservation agency, the department has the responsibility of protecting and conserving the country’s land, water, minerals, fish, and wildlife; of promoting the wise use of all these natural resources; of maintaining national parks and recreation areas; and of preserving historic places. It also provides for the welfare of Native American reservation communities and of inhabitants of island territories under U.S. administration.” (1)

Mission and Resources

The Department of the Interior (DOI) is the nation’s principal conservation agency. Its mission is to:

  • protect America’s natural resources and heritage,
  • offer recreation opportunities,
  • conduct scientific research,
  • supply the energy to power United States future,
  • conserve and protect fish and wildlife, and
  • honor the United States trust responsibilities to American cultures and tribal communities, including American Indians, Alaskan Natives, and the United States responsibilities to island communities.

The Department manages the United States’ public lands and minerals, national parks, national wildlife refuges, and western water resources and upholds Federal trust responsibilities to Indian tribes and Alaska Natives. This means that DOI manages 500 million acres of surface land, or about one-fifth of the land in the United States, and manages hundreds of dams and reservoirs.

It is also responsible for migratory wildlife conservation; historic preservation; endangered species conservation; surface-mined lands protection and restoration; mapping geological, hydrological, and biological science for the Nation; and for financial and technical assistance for the insular areas.

The Department of the Interior was created by act of March 3, 1849 (43 U.S.C. 1451), which transferred to it the General Land Office, the Office of Indian Affairs, the Pension Office, and the Patent Office. It was reorganized by Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1950, as amended (5 U.S.C. app.).

The Secretary of the Interior oversees about 70,000 employees and 200,000 volunteers on a budget of approximately $16 billion. Every year it raises billions in revenue from energy, mineral, grazing, and timber leases, as well as recreational permits and land sales.

Agencies within the DOI include the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Minerals Management Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey. The DOI manages the national parks and is tasked with protecting endangered species.



The Secretary of the Interior reports directly to the President and is responsible for the direction and supervision of all operations and activities of the Department. Some areas in which public purposes are broadly applied are detailed below.

Fish, Wildlife, and Parks

The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks has responsibility
for programs associated with the use, management, and conservation of
natural resources; lands and cultural facilities associated with the National
Park and National Refuge Systems; and the conservation and enhancement of
fish, wildlife, vegetation, and habitat. The Office represents the Department in
the coordination of marine ecosystems and biological resources programs with
other Federal agencies. It also exercises secretarial direction and supervision over
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service.

Indian Affairs

The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs is responsible for establishing and implementing Indian policy and programs; maintaining the Federal-tribal Government-to-government relationship; assisting the Secretary of the Interior with carrying out the Department’s Federal trust responsibilities; exercising direction and supervision of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Indian Education; directly supervising the Federal acknowledgment of tribes, tribal self-determination and self-governance, Indian gaming, economic development, and all administrative, financial, and information resource management activities; and maintaining liaison coordination between the Department and other Federal agencies that provide services or funding to the federally recognized tribes and to the eligible American Indians and Alaska Natives.

The Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians (OST) oversees
Department-wide Indian trust reform efforts to provide more effective
management of and accountability for the Secretary of the Interior’s trust
responsibilities to Indians. OST also has programmatic responsibility for the
management of financial trust assets, appraisals, and ?duciary trust bene?ciary

Insular Areas

The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas (IN) assists the territories of American Samoa, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in developing more efficient and effective government by providing financial and technical assistance and serves as a focal point for
the management of relations between the United States and the insular areas by
developing and promoting appropriate Federal policies. IN also carries out the
Secretary’s responsibilities that are related to the three freely associated states (the
Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and
the Republic of Palau), the Palmyra Atoll excluded areas, and Wake Atoll’s residual administration.

Land and Minerals Management

The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management maintains administrative oversight for the Bureau of Land Management, the Minerals Management Service, and the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. These bureaus are responsible for programs associated with public land management; operations management and leasing for minerals on public lands, including the Outer Continental Shelf to the outer limits of U.S. economic jurisdiction; mineral operations management on Indian lands; surface mining reclamation and enforcement functions; and management of revenues from Federal and Indian mineral leases.

Water and Science

The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Water and Science provides oversight to the U.S. Geological Survey, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Central Utah Project Completion Act Office. It provides policy direction and oversight in program areas related to water project operations, facility security and natural resource management as well as for geologic, hydrologic, cartographic, biologic, and technological research. It provides guidance in developing national water and science policies and environmental improvement.

For further information, contact the Department of the Interior, Washington, DC 20240. Internet address:

Department of the Interior Background

Department of the Interior

In Legislation

Department of the Interior in the U.S. Code: Title 43, Chapter 31

The current, permanent, in-force federal laws regulating department of the interior are compiled in the United States Code under Title 43, Chapter 31. It constitutes “prima facie” evidence of statutes relating to Public Lands (including department of the interior) of the United States. The reader can further narrow his/her legal research of the general topic (in this case, Land of the US Code, including department of the interior) by chapter and subchapter.


Notes and References

Guide to Department of the Interior

In this Section

Federal Departments, Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense (including Department of Defense Purpose, Department of Defense Organization, Department of Defense Liaison of Command and Department of Defense Supporting Agencies), Department of Education, Department of Energy (including Department of Energy Purpose, Department of Energy Organization and Department of Energy Research and Development), Department of Health and Human Services (including Department of Health and Human Services History and Department of Health and Human Services Agencies and Services), Department of Homeland Security (including Department of Homeland Security Organization and Functions, Department of Homeland Security Origins and Department of Homeland Security Supporting Agencies), Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Justice (including Department of Justice Functions, Department of Justice Structure and Department of Justice Associated Agencies), Department of Labor, Department of National Defence, Department of State (including Department of State Administration and Department of State Bureaus), Department of the Air Force, Department of the Army, Department of the Interior (including Department of the Interior Functions and Department of the Interior Principal Agencies), Department of the Navy, Department of the Treasury, Department of Transportation, Department of Veterans Affairs (including the Department of Veterans Affairs Service Categories, Department of Veterans Affairs Benefits Available and GI Bill of Rights) and Department of War.

Department of the Interior: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Department of the Interior. This part provides references, in relation to Department of the Interior, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Department of the Interior by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Department of the Interior and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Department of the Interior or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Department of the Interior and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Department of the Interior. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Department of the Interior should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Department of the Interior when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

*This resource guide is updated frequently. However, if you notice something is wrong or not working, or any resources that should be added, please notify us in any of the "Leave a Comment" area.

Leave a Comment