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What is the Secretary of the Interior?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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The United States Secretary of the Interior oversees the United States Department of the Interior, a branch of government which is focused on conserving and managing federally owned lands. A number of government services fall under the authority of the Department of the Interior, ranging from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to the National Parks Service. Because the Secretary of the Interior oversees a very large and diverse government department, the position can have some very unique demands.

The Secretary of the Interior is a member of the Presidential Cabinet. As such, he or she is in line for the succession of the Presidency, although it would take a rather catastrophic event for the Presidency to fall to the Secretary of the Interior, as he or she is eighth in line. Like other officials in cabinet-level positions, the Secretary of the Interior must be confirmed in the Senate before he or she can take office. During confirmation hearings, members of the Senate typically ask questions which are designed to determine whether or not the nominee is suitable for the position.

Numerous agencies are run by the Department of the Interior, including the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, the United States Geological Survey, the Office of Surface Mining, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. These organizations are responsible for protecting federal lands and ensuring that they are used in sustainable and beneficial ways. Their mandates typically include directives to ensure that all Americans have access to federally owned lands, ranging from the nation's prized National Parks to the open stretches of land in the American West which are leased to cattle ranchers.

Like other employs in government administration, the Secretary of the Interior often comes from a political background. Former secretaries have served in State and Federal government, for example, and some have served as lawyers or they have worked in some branch of the environmental field. The political appointment of this post can be quite controversial, as he or she may make decisions in office which will have a long-term impact on Americans, such as decisions about mining, drilling for oil, clearcutting, or laying roads.

As one might imagine, the Secretary of the Interior is assisted by a very large support staff. The Department of the Interior employs thousands of Americans, who work in a variety of fields from geology to forestry. The budget for the department typically runs in the billions of dollars, with funds supporting a wide variety of initiatives from installing restrooms in National Parks to providing education grants to Native Americans.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a America Explained researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By serenesurface — On Dec 10, 2014

Most people consider the job as Secretary of the Interior to be less important than some other secretary positions. But actually, this role has a huge impact on a large portion of the US, especially the lives of Native Americans residing on reservations.

The other very important role of the Secretary of the Interior is the efforts in environmentally friendly methods and renewable resources. Although this is the not the primary role of this department, I think it will become more and more important in the future. This is the department that deals with locating natural resources in the country. As these resources become more and more valuable, we will need to come up with ways to use them more wisely and sustain them for longer. The Secretary of the Interior can do a lot in regards to sustainable resources.

By turquoise — On Dec 09, 2014

@fify-- You're absolutely right. The US equivalent of the Department of Interior in most countries is the Department of Homeland Security. We use a different term and we use "interior" to refer to the physical property of the government and how it is to be managed. It's sort of like how we say "soccer" and everyone else says "football." We just like to confuse people. But in our defense, The Department of Homeland Security is more straightforward and sounds better.

By fify — On Dec 08, 2014

I guess the duties of the Department of the Interior vary from country to country. As far as I know, in most countries, the Department of the Interior is responsible for internal manners in the country. This is anything from elections to national security. It's not about the management of federally owned lands, or at least this is never the exclusive duty of this department or the Secretary.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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