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The U.S. government has scads of entities (departments, agencies, commissions, bureaus, institutes, etc). Below is a list of 13 (in no particular order), including very simplified descriptions of what they do. Hundreds of other entities do serve important functions.
1. Govt. Accountability Office (GAO): an arm of Congress that investigates and reports on whatever Congress tells it to (e.g., Hurricane Katrina spending, Defense spending -- you name it); it's a non-partisan office, because it answers to both Republicans and Democrats.
2. U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO): an entity that provides all kinds of reports relating to all three branches of government (e.g., GPO made the 9/11 commission report available online back in 2004).
3. Congressional Budget Office (CBO): an arm of Congress that does budget and economic analysis for Congress; it's a non-partisan office, because it answers to both Republicans and Democrats.
4. Office of Management & Budget (OMB): a White House office that does budget and economic analysis for the President; it can be partisan, because it answers to the President.
5. Office of Federal Procurement Policy: a part of the OMB, this entity sets policy for the government's spending of $300+ billion buying goods and services each year; how well it does is questionable, given the history of problems our nation has had in getting our money's worth from government contractors (see BN-Politics' section on Govt. Contractors & Waste).
6. U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC): an entity that regulates America's securities markets (e.g., stocks and bonds), whose mission is to protect ordinary investors. The SEC was created in 1934, after the Stock Market Crash of 1929, because ineffective regulation contributed to the great crash. At the SEC's website, you can find companies' quarterly and annual reports, press releases about litigation, and basics about various forms of investments.
7. U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ): a huge law-enforcement entity that is run by the U.S. Attorney General and includes the U.S. Attorneys, the U.S. Marshall Service, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) -- among other organizations.
8. Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA): under the U.S. Defense Department, this entity is responsible for auditing Defense Department contracts; whether it does a good job has been questionable, as evident in some GAO reports. (See BN-Politics' section on Govt. Contractors & Waste
9. Federal Election Commission (FEC): created in 1975, this entity enforces laws and rules relating to financing of federal elections.
10. U.S. Civil Rights Commission (USCRC): this entity's mission is to protect of citizens' constitutional right to vote (e.g., to address discrimination and fraud). The President appoints the commissioners, and different commissioners see the Commission's mission differently.
11. U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID): an independent agency that gives money and help to other nations re: humanitarian- and economic-development needs.
12. U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA): this agency's goal is to ensure that our food, drugs and cosmetics are safe. The FDA has been under fire for doing a questionable job. You can read about four recent drug scandals here.
13. National Institutes of Health (NIH): the primary entity for conducting and funding scientific research, the NIH includes 27 institutes and centers (e.g., National Cancer Institute and National Institute on Allergy and Infectious Diseases). The NIH gives out many grants, which is how some big drug companies have ended up with millions of tax dollars for new-drug research.
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