Government & Law Enforcement: The Big Five Federal Departments


When looking for employment, it makes sense to concentrate your efforts in areas that have the greatest opportunities. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) reports that five departments employ close to half of the 2.7 million federal civilian workers, with opportunities for everyone from janitors to judges.

The Federal Civilian Workforce Statistics Employment and Trends 2003, published by the Office of Personnel Management, lists the largest federal departments and the number they employ:

Department of Defense: 664,446

Department of Veterans Affairs: 225,159

Department of Homeland Security: 151,813

Department of the Treasury: 131,872

Department of Justice: 101,932

All five of these agencies also list job openings at USAJOBS.

Department of Defense (DOD)

The DOD is the largest employer and hires civilians worldwide to support military facilities and operations. You will find all occupations in this group from blue-collar trades jobs to white-collar professional, administrative and management occupations. Be aware that the DOD will only accept electronic resumes in formats that are unlike anything used in the private sector and that you must provide all of the requested information or your application will be rejected.

Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

The VA manages and administers aid to veterans and their family members. In addition to 100,000 medical specialists, the VA also employs more than 125,000 support personnel at more than 1,000 facilities, including 163 hospitals, nationwide.

Department of Homeland Security

If you've looked into federal employment before, you'll find significant changes since early 2003. Public Law 107-296 established the Department of Homeland Security on January 24, 2003, in response to the September 11th attacks. Many functions were transferred to Homeland Security from other departments, including:

  • Immigration and naturalization from the Department of Justice.
  • Transportation Security Administration and the US Coast Guard from the Department of Transportation.
  • US Customs Service from the Treasury Department.
  • Parts of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service from the Agriculture Department.
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency.
  • Various functions from the Health and Human Services, Commerce, Defense, Energy and the General Services Administration.
Treasury Department

The Treasury Department regulates all financial institutions, manages the public debt, prints currency and provides law enforcement for the department. According to OPM's publication Full-Time Civilian White-Collar Employment by Occupation, the Treasury employs 24,000 investigation personnel, including 10,373 criminal investigators, 6,662 internal revenue officers, more than 16,000 in the legal and kindred occupational group including 2,407 attorneys, 38,396 in accounting and budget, 13,276 internal revenue agents, and approximately 36,000 in general administration, clerical and office services positions.

Department of Justice

The Department of Justice enforces federal laws, operates federal prisons and prosecutes federal cases in court. Even with the recent transfer of Immigration and Naturalization services to the Department of Homeland Security, this department remains in the top five. It too employs more than 16,000 in the legal and kindred group and thousands of investigators, and also provides the staff for federal courts and prisons.

These five departments are the largest in government and offer a full spectrum of occupations nationwide and overseas. You can link to recruiting sites for individual agencies within each of these departments at

Be sure to pay close attention to required information when applying for these jobs and completing your application or resume. If you exclude required information, your application will be rejected. Some departments offer online applications and others require the standard OF-612 application or a federal-style resume.

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