Treasury, United States Department of the, federal executive department established in 1789. It is charged with advising the president on fiscal policy and acting as fiscal agent for the federal government. Under the Articles of Confederation the limited financial administration of the United States was taken care of by a superintendent of finance, who was replaced in 1784 by a treasury board. One of the first necessities, after the new government was set up in 1789 under the Constitution of the United States, was machinery for the collection of taxes, the custody of federal funds, and the keeping of accounts. To this end the Dept. of the Treasury was created and its head, the secretary of the treasury, became the second-ranking cabinet member (after the secretary of state). Alexander Hamilton was the first secretary. The office of U.S. Treasurer was also created in 1789 to receive and pay out money for the federal government.
Divisions that were added over the years include the U.S. Mint (1792), the U.S. Secret Service (1865, transferred to the Dept. of Homeland Security in 2003), the Internal Revenue Service (1862), the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (1863), the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (1877), the U.S. Customs Service (1927, functions transferred to bureaus in the Dept. of Homeland Security in 2003), the Bureau of the Public Debt (1940), the U.S. Savings Bonds Division (1945, transferred to the Bureau of the Public Debt in 1994), the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (1970, transferred to the Dept. of Homeland Security in 2003), the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (1972 as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; law enforcement functions transferred to the Dept. of Justice in 2003 as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives), the Financial Management Service (formerly the Bureau of Government Financial Operations, 1974), the Office of Thrift Supervision (1989, functions transferred to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency in 2011), the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (1990), and the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund (1994).
Until 1829 the department supervised the U.S. Postal Service and until 1849 the General Land Office; before 1903 the department was also charged with many duties pertaining to commerce. The law enforcement functions formerly carried out by the department were transferred to other departments in 2003.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.