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America’s Most Confusing Government Agencies

Washington’s weirdest policy portfolios

January 2024


What’s in a name? When it comes to government agencies ... not much.

Take, for example, the U.S. Department of Energy.

Judging by its name, you might think the Energy Department spends most of its time focusing on gasoline or electricity. The reality? Not so much.

By far the biggest share of the Department of Energy’s budget actually goes towards maintaining the country’s arsenal of nuclear weapons.i

And the department’s second-biggest expenditure is on scientific research.ii

Only about 12% of the Energy Department’s budget — around six billion — goes to actual energy.

Another agency whose job is different than you might think: The Secret Service.

Most of us know the Secret Service for its role in protecting the president and other VIPs.

Less well-known: The Secret Service is also responsible for combatting counterfeiting.

In 2019, the Secret Service prevented criminals from getting their hands on $3.8 billion in counterfeit bills.iii

They’ve also expanded their reach to deal with credit card fraud and cyberattacks.iv

Another institution with a confusing mission: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Some of HHS’s responsibilities are obvious: They run healthcare-focused institutions like the FDA and Medicare. But HHS is also responsible for ... refugees.

The department runs the Office of Refugee Resettlement,v which helps new arrivals get settled in the United States.

Technically, HHS has legal custody of every unaccompanied minor who crosses the

If you find this all bewildering, you’re not alone. Even the government itself is a little confused.

According to the Federal Register, there are 436 agencies of the federal government.vii

But according to another government source, “there is no authoritative list of government agencies” — and no one can agree on the correct number.viii

Seems like there ought to be an agency for that.



  1. The Department of Energy primarily works on America’s nuclear arsenal, not energy policy.
  2. In addition to protecting VIPs, the Secret Service is also responsible for combatting counterfeiting.
  3. In addition to its role in health care, the Department of Health and Human Services is also in charge of refugee resettlement.


  1. FY 2024 Budget in Brief  U.S. Department of Energy
  2. Ibid.
  3. Our Investigative Mission — U.S. Secret Service
  4. Ibid.
  5. Office of Refugee Resettlement  U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
  6. Unaccompanied Children (UC) Program  U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
  7. Agencies Found  Federal Register
  8. "Sourcebook of United States Executive Agencies" (David E. Lewis and Jennifer L. Selin)  Administrative Conference of the United States


SOUND: Premium Beat: Jazznik Jonathan Boyle 

FOOTAGE: Getty: Richard Gardette, Omar Chatriwala, Silvermanmediaservices, Peresmeh, INA FASSBENDER / Contributor, Twilightproductions, Kolotuschenko, Carl Court / Staff, SteveDF, Ianmcdonnell, Grace Cary, Jasmin Merdan, Shivkantsharma07, Grandriver, Realistique, Tara Moore, Carlos Javier Quitero Marrero // CITED SOURCES AND NEWS OUTLETS ARE NOT AFFILIATED WITH AND HAVE NOT ENDORSED OR SPONSORED ANY PORTION OF THIS PRODUCTION. 


  1. U.S. Department of Energy
    FY 2024 Budget in Brief
  2. U.S. Secret Service
    Our Investigative Mission
  3. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
    Office of Refugee Resettlement
  4. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
    Unaccompanied Children (UC) Program 
  5. Federal Register
    Agencies Found
  6. Administrative Conference of the United States
    "Sourcebook of United States Executive Agencies" (David E. Lewis and Jennifer L. Selin)

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