In its 242-year history, the United States has not only grown as a country with an ever-growing number of agencies and departments—it’s also amassed an array of acronyms, some more memorable than others.
From POTUS to SCOTUS, FDA to FOIA, the people, offices, and agencies that form the foundation of America bring dozens of abbreviations to our nation’s vocabulary. Whether to make sense of government-speak or navigate the alphabet soup of the daily news cycle, it helps to have a general understanding of them to stay informed.
Using data from governmental websites, encyclopedias, and news sources, Stacker has gathered a list of relevant offices and agencies—with corresponding clues to test your knowledge. How many can you identify off the top of your head? Follow the clues to find out.
In 1862 Abraham Lincoln signed the act that created this agency, which had a mandate "to acquire and to diffuse … information on subjects connected with agriculture in the most general and comprehensive sense of that word."
From aiding American farmers to overseeing food safety, the USDA has a broad range of responsibilities. The USDA also subsidizes the Food and Nutrition Service, the federal agency that administers food stamps. Congress is currently negotiating the 2018 farm bill, which sets a five-year budget for the department.
The largest department in the U.S. government, it includes all four branches of armed services and has a primary responsibility of defending the United States.
Despite the National Security Act of 1947, which forbids a military leader from serving as the U.S. Secretary of Defense until after seven years of civilian life, President Donald Trump appointed James “Mad Dog” Mattis to the lead the Department of Defense after he had only been out of service for three and a half years. To do this, Congress had to grant a special type of waiver that had not been issued since 1950.
Created in 2002 in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, this department has the primary responsibility of ensuring that the U.S. is protected from security and safety threats, such as terrorist attacks and disasters.
Currently chaired by Secretary John F. Kelly, the Department of Homeland Security has more than 240,000 employees in more than 12 key offices and committees—including the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the U.S. Secret Service.
This is the second largest law enforcement organization in the U.S. and is operated by the Department of Homeland Security.
In charge of enforcing immigration and customs law, ICE has recently come under fire for carrying out a Trump administration policy that called for separating migrant parents from their children when they attempted to cross the border.
Part of the Department of Homeland Security, this agency is a culmination of organizations with responsibilities of protecting the U.S. at its borders and ports of entries.
When United States Customs and Border Protection was created in 2003, it was the first time one specific agency was tasked with protecting U.S. borders. Creating it was the largest federal government reorganization in more than 50 years.
Officially created by President Harry S. Truman in 1952, this part of the American intelligence community has been one of the government’s most secretive spy operations since the Cold War. It specializes in cryptology, the science of coding and decoding information.
The National Security Agency operates under the Department of Defense, using mass information gathering to obtain data. In 2012, leaked documents from Edward Snowden detailed a wide range of secretive activities by this agency, including those meant to gather data on American citizens.
Created in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt and Attorney General Charles Bonaparte, this agency is one of the government's top law enforcement agencies. It also acts as an intelligence agency, reporting to both the attorney general and the director of national intelligence.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is headed by Christopher A. Wray and operates 56 field offices throughout major U.S. cities, as well as 380 resident agencies in smaller cities. A recent Department of Justice report put the agency’s credibility into question for mishandling an investigation into Hillary Clinton in regards to classified documents stored on her email server.
President Harry S. Truman created this agency in 1947 when he signed the National Security Act. Today it’s responsible for reporting national security intelligence to senior U.S. policymakers.
Gina Haspel is the current director of the Central Intelligence Agency, but not without controversy. She’s been implicated in authorizing the practice of waterboarding, despite saying the techniques “should not have been undertaken” in her Senate confirmation hearing.
This agency’s main mandate is to ensure fair and equal housing opportunities for all, providing housing and community development assistance.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development was created in 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. It is currently headed by Secretary Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon and former Republican presidential candidate.
This civilian department aims to protect the health of all Americans and provides essential human services.
The Department of Health and Human Services is charged with implementing Medicare and Medicaid, as well as overseeing the Food and Drug Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institutes of Health. Alex Michael Azar is the current secretary of the department.
This department is in charge of upholding federal laws, preventing crime, and protecting the public against any type of safety threat. It’s also in charge of the federal prison system.
The 148-year-old Department of Justice is lead by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The department administers law enforcement agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Agency; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and Explosives; Federal Bureau of Investigation; and United States Marshals Service.
This agency was established in 1970 to research, monitor, enforce, and set standards for environmental protection.
President Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency to protect the earth’s ecosystem against damage that had already been done and to prevent future degradation. It’s currently in controversy between upholding its mission and complying with the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back environmental rules and regulations.
This law enforcement agency within the Department of Justice is charged with combating the sale and distribution of narcotics and other illegal drugs.
Created by President Nixon in 1973, the DEA is currently lead by Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon, who was appointed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in 2018. The DEA maintains its mission to enforce its classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug, even though nine states and Washington D.C. have voted to legalize it for recreational use, and 30 states have legalized it for medical use in recent years.
This division of the U.S. Department of Transportation is in charge of regulating civil aviation and U.S. commercial space transportation, maintaining and operating air traffic control and navigation systems for both civil and military aircraft, and developing and administering programs relating to aviation safety and the National Airspace System.
The Federal Aviation Administration was established by the Federal Aviation Act of 1958 and became a part of the Department of Transportation in 1967. While it currently regulates air traffic control, libertarian activist Robert Poole has been pushing Congress for four decades to separate it from the FAA into its own organization.
This independent agency was created by Congress in 1933 to maintain stability and public confidence in the nation’s financial system.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation was created in response to the thousands of bank failures that occurred in the 1920s and 1930s. It insures deposits up to $250,000 and is funded by deposit insurance and earnings on investments in U.S. Treasury securities paid by banks and other savings and loan institutions.
This regulatory agency was created in 1975 to promote confidence and participation in the democratic process.
President Theodore Roosevelt saw a need for campaign finance reform as early as 1905, but it wasn’t until reports of serious financial abuses in the 1972 presidential campaign that Congress took action. They amended the Federal Election Campaign Act in 1974 to set limits on contributions by individuals, political parties, and political action committees, and established the Federal Election Commission in 1975.
This agency located within the Department of Homeland Security is responsible for managing the federal government’s response to natural and manmade disasters.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency was founded in 1979 under President Jimmy Carter. In 2003, the agency became part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and was tasked with helping to ensure that first responders were able to deal with weapons of mass destruction. It’s currently headed by Brock Long.
This act gives the public the right to request access to records from any federal agency.
Congress enacted the Freedom of Information Act in 1967. It requires federal agencies to disclose any information requested under the act unless it falls under one of nine exemptions, such as personal privacy, national security, and law enforcement.
This government agency is in charge of enforcing the Internal Revenue Code.
President Abraham Lincoln and Congress created the position of Commissioner of Internal Revenue in 1862, enacting an income tax to cover war costs. Although it was repealed shortly after, the 16th Amendment gave Congress the authority to collect income tax in 1913. The bureau changed its name to the Internal Revenue Service in 1953.
This is the nation's oldest federal cultural institution, and it serves as the research arm of Congress.
The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, housing millions of books, recordings, photographs, newspapers, maps, and manuscripts. It’s also in charge of the U.S. Copyright Office and serves as the main research arm of Congress.
This agency develops and enforces government standards that protect worker safety at U.S. job sites.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is headed by Loren Sweatt, deputy assistant secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health. It is housed in the Department of Labor and answers to the secretary of labor. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 established the department, which offers certain protections to most private sector employers and their employees.
This government agency has been around for more than 200 years, and is primarily responsible for trademark and patent applications.
The Patent and Trademark Office not only grants U.S. patents and registers trademarks, they also advise the president, secretary of commerce, and government agencies on intellectual property policy, protection, and enforcement.
Offered in U.S. colleges, universities, and high schools, this program trains students interested in serving as officers in the U.S. armed forces.
Since World War II, the Reserve Officer Training Corps has been the biggest source of officers for the armed forces. Distinct ROTC programs exist for the army, navy, and air force.
This independent federal agency provides income to people who are retired or have disabilities.
The Social Security Administration is the result of the Social Security Act, which President Roosevelt signed in 1935. Acting Commissioner of Social Security Nancy A. Berryhill oversees the program, which has a $12 billion budget and nearly 64,000 employees.
This government program helps needy families get on their feet and become self-sufficient.
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families provides assistance to low-income families so that children can be cared for in their homes. It supports families so parents can prepare to apply for jobs, go to work, and maintain their marriages. It also encourages two-parent families.
This agency protects the nation’s transportation networks from attack.
The Transportation and Security Administration was founded in November 2001 in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks. David P. Pekoske heads the current organization and is responsible for its nearly 60,000 employees. It is a division of the Department of Homeland Security.
This agency administers the country’s immigration system.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services is in charge of lawful immigration to the U.S. Led by L. Francis Cissna, the agency is staffed by 19,000 government employees and contract workers. Created within the Department of Homeland Security, the USCIS succeeds the INS, which was abolished in 2003.
The mission of this government agency is to “fly, fight, and win… in air, space, and cyberspace.”
The United States Air Force is one of five branches of the military, headed by Secretary Heather A. Wilson—who reports to Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who reports to President Donald Trump. The Air Force was founded in 1907 as part of the Army, becoming independent in 1947 with the passing of the National Security Act.
This federal agency is in charge of foreign assistance to countries that are faced with disaster, poverty, and fledgling democracies.
The United States Agency for International Development was established in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy and offers assistance to developing countries. Administrator Mark Green leads the agency, which has operations in more than 100 nations.
This department delivers mail and packages to every address in the U.S., as well as its territories and military installations around the world.
Founded in 1775, the United States Postal Service is the second-oldest federal department—Benjamin Franklin was its first postmaster general. It delivers to more than 157 million addresses across the globe.
This department provides patient care and federal benefits to veterans and their dependents.
The Department of Veterans Affairs took shape in 1930, when President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 5398. Robert Wilkie is the current secretary of the administration, which boasts around 1,600 health care facilities.
This government-funded, international, multimedia broadcast service provides news updates in more than 40 languages across the world.
Initially established in 1942 to counteract Nazi propaganda efforts, Voice of America now provides news, information, and cultural programming through traditional and digital media efforts.
This law enforcement agency within the Department of Justice is charged with protecting the public against violent criminals, criminal organizations, the illegal use of trafficking of firearms, and the illegal use and storage of explosives.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is led by Deputy Director Thomas E. Brandon. It has a staff of 5,113 employees, which includes 2,623 special agents, and its annual budget in 2017 was $1.258 billion.
This government agency supervises banks, lenders, credit reporting agencies, and debt collection companies.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, led by Acting Director Mick Mulvaney, supervises U.S. financial institutions; it also works with companies to make credit card, mortgage, and loan disclosures transparent for consumers. The bureau was created when the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act passed in 2010.
This government office independently analyzes budgetary and economic issues to support Congress in their budgeting process.
The Congressional Budget Office was formed as a result of the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 to provide nonpartisan information that would support the budget process. It draws on the expertise of roughly 225 analysts, and its current director is Keith Hall.
This agency is responsible for the nation’s transportation systems and infrastructure.
Congress established the Department of Transportation in 1966. It is currently led by Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao.
This governmental organization is in charge of public health efforts to prevent and control infectious diseases, environmental threats, and workplace hazards.
The Centers for Disease Control was founded in 1946 and is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Robert R. Redfield, M.D., currently serves as CDC director.
This institution collects, analyzes, and reports data related to education in the U.S. and other nations.
The National Center for Education Statistics is part of the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences. James Woodworth, Ph.D., is the commissioner of the organization.
This agency provides mortgage insurance on loans made by government-approved lenders throughout the country.
The Federal Housing Administration insures mortgages on single and multi-family homes, as well as manufactured homes and hospitals. Founded in 1932, it has insured 47.5 million properties since its inception, making it the largest insurer of mortgages.
This division of the Federal Reserve meets eight times a year to review economic and financial conditions to determine monetary policy.
The Federal Open Market Committee is a branch of the Federal Reserve Board, which determines whether monetary policy stays the same or changes course. The chairman of the FOMC is Jerome Powell who, by tradition, is also the chair of the Board of Governors.
This independent federal agency protects the rights of private sector employees to join together, with or without a union, to improve wage and working conditions.
Employees who feel that their rights have been violated, or that their employer has engaged in unlawful behavior, can contact a regional office of the National Labor Relations Board. The board has five members appointed by the president and approved by the Senate; they act as a quasi-judicial body in deciding cases.
This group meets and advises the president of the United States on national security and foreign policy matters.
The National Security Council was established under President Harry S. Truman by the National Security Act of 1947. Chaired by the president, it regularly includes the vice president, secretary of state, secretary of the treasury, secretary of defense, and the assistant to the president.
This office assists the president in overseeing federal agencies carrying out the federal budget.
Director Mick Mulvaney leads the Office of Management and Budget in carrying out its objectives. The office’s primary job is to prepare the president’s annual budget request and submit it to Congress.
This federal law enforcement agency is mandated by Congress to physically protect the nation’s highest elected leaders and government officials.
The United States Secret Service was founded at the end of the American Civil War to combat counterfeiting of U.S. currency. Currently led by Director Randolph D. Alles, it not only focuses on physically guarding the people who hold the highest offices in the U.S., but also helps the Department of Homeland Security protect American citizens from harm.
This independent federal agency protects U.S. consumers from potentially harmful or dangerous products sold domestically.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission was established in 1972 under the Consumer Product Safety Act to protect the public “against unreasonable risks of injuries associated with consumer products.” The agency is headed by Acting Chairman Ann Marie Buerkle and four commissioners, each serving staggered seven-year terms.
This group within the Department of Labor measures labor market activity, working conditions, and price changes in the economy.
The mission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics is to measure labor market activity, as well as analyze and disseminate information to help public and private decision-making. The department is headed by a commissioner appointed by the president, who oversees 2,400 employees—mainly economists and statisticians.
This division of the Federal Emergency Management Agency is the lead agency for fire data collection, public fire education, fire research, and fire service training.
Congress passed the Federal Fire Prevention and Control Act in 1974, which created the United States Fire Administration. Its mission is to curtail fire-related deaths through data collection, public education, research, and training. The agency is lead by U.S. Fire Administrator G. Keith Bryant.
This is the U.S. government’s principal agency for cancer research.
This independent federal agency is in charge of the nation’s space program.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is led by Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who leads a staff of more than 18,000 people charged with military aerospace research, development of space missions, and training of astronauts. NASA was created in 1958 in response to the Soviet Union’s launch of its first satellite, Sputnik I.
This agency is in charge of creating cutting-edge technologies and capabilities for national security.
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency dates back to the 1957 launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik I, when the U.S. resolved to be an innovator in technological advances. DARPA is headed by Dr. Steven H. Walker, who oversees 230 government employees who are responsible for nearly 250 research projects.