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The Secretary of the Interior heads up the Department of the Interior, acting as an expert, a supervisor and a human resources manager. This department oversees government operations related to parks, land, and some natural resources, making it a diverse role that requires extensive and varied knowledge.
National Parks and Related Bureaus
The Department of the Interior is a conservation and land management department charged with overseeing national parks. The Secretary of the Interior sets standards for national parks, has final say over new national parks and can alter conservation standards within these parks. The United States Geological Survey, which provides scientific data on water, ecosystems, climate and environmental health, and offers input on how best to conserve national resources, is also under the aegis of the Secretary of the Interior, who appoints leadership for this organization, reviews reports and helps -- in consultation with department scientists -- set the USGS's scientific agenda. The Secretary of the Interior also heads up the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which administers land owned by the federal government.
Working With Indigenous Peoples
The Secretary of the Interior works with the indigenous peoples of the United States, including Native American tribes and Alaska natives, to sign and enforce treaties. This role includes listening to concerns or complaints from native peoples, as well as implementing new programs and awarding grants. For example, some native tribes are permitted to drill on land that is otherwise protected, and the Secretary of the Interior typically has final say about this land use.
Managing the Department
The Secretary of the Interior is a supervisory and human resources-oriented role, with many of the daily duties of the Department of the Interior outsourced to assistant directors and staff members. The secretary is charged with hiring and firing employees, setting training and communication standards and ensuring the department stays within the budget allotted to it by Congress. When there is a problem with the department -- whether political, legal or budgetary -- the secretary is charged with investigating and remedying the issue.
Implementing New Programs
The Secretary of the Department of the Interior sets the agenda for the department, establishing both broad goals and specific programs. For example, if the secretary identifies drumming up interest in national parks as a goal, she might work with her staff to brainstorm and ultimately implement programs that can achieve this goal. Because the department's budget is determined by Congress, though, the secretary does not have direct control over the amount of funding available for new programs.
Reporting to Congress and President
Like all members of the president's cabinet, the Secretary of the Interior reports directly to the president, and is responsible for implementing his agenda at the Department of the Interior. The Secretary of the Interior must also report to Congress, providing testimony about expenses and programs, answering questions about how various programs are managed and providing data and reports Congress requests.
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Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.