An Overview of the U.S. Department of Education
September 2010

How Is the Department of Education Organized?

The secretary of education leads the Department and promotes public understanding of the Department's mission, goals and objectives. The secretary is nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. As a member of the president's Cabinet, the secretary is the principal adviser to the president on federal policies, programs and activities related to education in the United States.

The deputy secretary plays a pivotal role in overseeing and managing the development of policies, recommendations and initiatives that help define a broad, coherent vision for achieving the president's education priorities, and the under secretary oversees policies, programs and activities related to postsecondary education, vocational and adult education, and federal student aid. In addition, the secretary appoints an assistant secretary to oversee each of the nine program offices (see list below).

The Office of the General Counsel serves as the principal adviser to the secretary on all legal matters affecting Department programs and activities and represents the secretary, other officers and the Department in court and in some litigation. In addition, OGC provides legal advice and services to the secretary and other Department officials, prepares regulatory documents and legal instruments, drafts legislative proposals, and reviews proposed and pending legislation. The Office of Inspector General promotes the effective and efficient use of taxpayer dollars in support of American education by detecting and preventing fraud, waste and abuse in the administration of Department programs and operations. OIG serves as the principal adviser to the secretary on these matters.

The Office for Civil Rights enforces federal laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, handicap or age in educational programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance. It directs, coordinates and recommends policy for related civil rights activities.

The Office of Communications and Outreach leads the Department in informing the public about and engaging it in the president's and secretary's education agenda and the Department's mission of fostering educational excellence and promoting equal access to education. Audiences are the general public as well specialized publics, such as educators, the media, policymakers, business and community groups, and researchers. The Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs serves as the Department's liaison to Congress and the secretary's principal adviser on matters concerning the Department's legislative program and congressional relations. And the International Affairs Office works with external partners, for example, other federal agencies, foreign governments and international organizations, as well as internal offices, to coordinate the Department's international programs and initiatives and build a U.S. presence in the international education community.

The Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development serves as the principal adviser to the secretary on all matters relating to policy development and review, strategic planning, program performance measurement and evaluation, and budget processes and proposals. It is home to the Department's Budget Service and Family Policy Compliance Office. It also coordinates the activities of the Office of Educational Technology, which has as its main goal maximizing technology's contributions to improving education nationwide through developing national educational technology policy and implementing it Departmentwide.

The Office of Management, the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, the Office of the Chief Information Officer, and the Risk Management Service are responsible in their respective operational areas for making the Department a high-performing organization.

Four White House education initiatives have their home at the Department so that its senior officers may serve as the liaisons between the executive branch and the constituencies of these initiatives: the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, the White House Initiative on Tribal Colleges and Universities, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans, and the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Also, the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships was established at the Department with the goal of enlisting faith-based and community organizations in support of the Department's mission.

The Department has nine program offices.

  1. The Institute of Education Sciences provides national leadership in expanding fundamental knowledge of education and produces rigorous evidence on which to ground education practice and policy. This is accomplished through the work of its four centers: the National Center for Education Research, the National Center for Education Statistics, the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, and the National Center for Special Education Research.
  2. The Office of English Language Acquisition, Language Enhancement and Academic Achievement for Limited English Proficient Students administers, coordinates and recommends policy for developing and supporting high-quality instructional programs designed to serve the education needs of linguistically and culturally diverse students, thereby helping these English language learners and immigrants attain English proficiency and academic success.
  3. The Office of Elementary and Secondary Education provides leadership, technical assistance and financial support to state and local education agencies for the maintenance and improvement of both public and private preschool, elementary and secondary education. OESE administers programs designed to advance the academic opportunities of the nation's neediest children.
  4. The Office of Innovation and Improvement administers and coordinates programs and activities designed to support and test innovations throughout the K-12 system, including a number of teacher quality programs and reforms that expand parental choice of schools for their children and information about best practices. It is also the Department's liaison to the non-public education community.
  5. The Office of Postsecondary Education is responsible for formulating federal postsecondary education policy and administering programs that address critical national needs in support of increased access to quality postsecondary education for all students. OPE also promotes the domestic study of foreign languages and international affairs and supports international education research and exchange.
  6. The Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools administers, coordinates and recommends policy for improving programs and activities that promote the health and well-being of students in elementary and secondary schools and institutions of higher education. Such programs and activities comprise drug and violence prevention programs, character and civic education, and a variety of other comprehensive efforts to promote students' physical and mental health.
  7. The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services supports programs designed to meet the needs and develop the full potential of children with disabilities, reduce dependency and enhance the productive capabilities of youths and adults with disabilities, and support research to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities, regardless of age.
  8. The Office of Federal Student Aid administers the systems and products related to providing tens of billions of dollars annually in federal financial aid to millions of students pursuing postsecondary education and training opportunities. The office provides the information and forms needed to apply for loans, grants and work-study funds, as well as information for students, parents, financial aid administrators, lending institutions, auditors and others in the field. It also leads the U.S. government-wide initiative to deliver Web-based services from government agencies and organizations to postsecondary students (see http://students.gov).
  9. The Office of Vocational and Adult Education supports a wide range of programs and activities that provide adults with the basic skills necessary to obtain a high school diploma or the equivalent and support them in their pursuit of postsecondary, career or technical education and lifelong learning.

You can find more information on the Department's website on each of the offices mentioned above. Visit http://www2.ed.gov/about/ offices/list/index.html and select the link for the office in which you are interested.

If you want detailed information on any of the approximately 200 Department programs authorized and funded under federal law, check the Guide to U.S. Department of Education Programs at http://www2.ed.gov/programs/gtep/gtep.pdf. It also includes information on the laboratories, centers and other facilities funded by the Department that provide important resources for education.

For help with any question you may have, check with the Department's Information Resource Center or another of the sources listed at the end of this booklet.

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Last Modified: 05/14/2018