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Who’s the largest employer in the U.S.?

When people hear that question, they tend to think of giant companies, like Wal-Mart, General Electric and McDonald’s. But the runaway leader isn’t a giant company. In fact, it’s not even a company.

With approximately 2.7 million civilian employees, the U.S. government is the largest employer in the country. For reference, Wal-Mart has 2.2 million employees worldwide. While this number reveals the enormity of the federal government, it doesn’t tell the full story of where these 2.7 million people work. After all, the U.S. government consists of dozens of departments and agencies, each with distinct goals and purposes.

That’s why the team at InsideGov decided to take a deeper look at employment in the U.S. government. Using data from the Office of Personnel Management, we found the 25 government departments and agencies that had the most employees in September 2013. Non-civilians, like uniformed military personnel, are not included in these figures.

It’s also important to note that these numbers only include federal personnel. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that with state and local government positions, the total number of government employees in the U.S. jumps to over 21.8 million.

#25. Tennessee Valley Authority

Worldwide Employees (Sept. 2013): 12,612
Government Branch: Independent Agencies

Unlike most of the agencies on this list, the Tennessee Valley Authority is a federally owned corporation that receives no taxpayer funding. It provides electricity to the southeastern U.S.

#24. Department of Energy

Worldwide Employees (Sept. 2013): 15,213
Government Branch: Executive Departments

With the rising threat of global climate change, the Department of Energy has increased its efforts to develop renewable energy resources and promote energy efficiency throughout the country.

#23. Congress

Worldwide Employees (Sept. 2013): 16,432
Government Branch: Legislative Branch

Including personnel in the House of Representatives and the Senate, Congress employs over 16,000 people. This is the only organization from the legislative branch of government to make this list.

#22. Environmental Protection Agency

Worldwide Employees (Sept. 2013): 17,002
Government Branch: Independent Agencies

One of the newest agencies on this list, the EPA was created in 1970 by President Richard Nixon with the goal of protecting human health and the environment.

#21. Department of Labor

Worldwide Employees (Sept. 2013): 17,187
Government Branch: Executive Departments

As the agency responsible for the welfare of the U.S. workforce, the Department of Labor employs a fair number of people itself, with over 17,000 employees.

#20. National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Worldwide Employees (Sept. 2013): 18,001
Government Branch: Independent Agencies

With its goals of space exploration and uncovering the unknown aspects of the universe, NASA employs some of the most brilliant minds in the nation. The agency hopes to send humans to Mars in the 2030s.

#19. Corps of Engineers

Worldwide Employees (Sept. 2013): 23,230
Government Branch: Executive Departments

The Corps of Engineers has undertaken some of the most ambitious public works projects in U.S. history, ranging from the construction of the Panama Canal to the damming of the Columbia River.

#18. Defense Logistics Agency

Worldwide Employees (Sept. 2013): 24,331
Government Branch: Executive Departments

As its name suggests, the Defense Logistics Agency provides logistics support for the U.S. military. This entails a wide variety of services, ranging from the provision of necessary materials to sustainability programs.

#17. U.S. Courts

Worldwide Employees (Sept. 2013): 33,271
Government Branch: Judicial Branch

The U.S. federal court system employs over 33,000 people. This number does not include employees of the Supreme Court.

#16. Department of State

Worldwide Employees (Sept. 2013): 41,768
Government Branch: Executive Departments

With its goal of promoting peace and democracy, the State Department tackles a wide variety of policy issues throughout the world.

#15. Department of Commerce

Worldwide Employees (Sept. 2013): 45,035
Government Branch: Executive Departments

The Department of Commerce was created in 1903 with the goal of creating jobs and promoting economic growth. In 2012, President Obama announced his intention to eliminate the department, but Congress has not approved the changes.

#14. Department of Transportation

Worldwide Employees (Sept. 2013): 55,288
Government Branch: Executive Departments

As the government repairs its aging highway infrastructure and builds more efficient transit systems, spending on the Department of Transportation is expected to rise sharply over the next few years.

#13. Social Security Administration

Worldwide Employees (Sept. 2013): 62,549
Government Branch: Independent Agencies

Remarkably, the Social Security Administration employs roughly 5,000 more people than Google does worldwide.

#12. Department of the Interior

Worldwide Employees (Sept. 2013): 71,543
Government Branch: Executive Departments

Employees of the Department of the Interior are distributed across a variety of different bureaus and offices, including the National Park Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

#11. Department of Health and Human Services

Worldwide Employees (Sept. 2013): 72,703
Government Branch: Executive Departments

Although it doesn’t crack the top 10 in terms of employment, the Department of Health and Human Services has the largest budget of any U.S. government agency.

#10. Other Defense Activities (Excluding Defense Logistics Agency)

Worldwide Employees (Sept. 2013): 75,223
Government Branch: Executive Departments

The Department of Defense consists of multiple levels of departments and agencies. Some of the defense agencies included in this category include the Defense Commissary Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency.

#9. Department of Agriculture

Worldwide Employees (Sept. 2013): 95,223
Government Branch: Executive Departments

President Abraham Lincoln created the Department of Agriculture in 1862 and later referred to the agency as “The People’s Department.” The USDA heads initiatives on food, agriculture and natural resource conservation.

#8. Department of the Treasury

Worldwide Employees (Sept. 2013): 112,461
Government Branch: Executive Departments

Besides providing inspiration for Broadway hits, the Department of the Treasury is responsible for managing the government’s finances and promoting economic growth.

#7. Department of Justice

Worldwide Employees (Sept. 2013): 115,616
Government Branch: Executive Departments

The Department of Justice is tasked with enforcing the law and administering justice. This includes managing the extensive federal prison system in the U.S.

#6. Department of the Air Force

Worldwide Employees (Sept. 2013): 169,440
Government Branch: Executive Departments

The U.S. Air Force became its own branch of the military in 1847. In 2013, the Air Force had nearly 170,000 civilian employees and approximately twice as many active duty personnel.

#5. Department of Homeland Security

Worldwide Employees (Sept. 2013): 192,073
Government Branch: Executive Departments

Established in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Department of Homeland Security is responsible for protecting the U.S. against terrorism and other threats.

#4. Department of the Navy

Worldwide Employees (Sept. 2013): 194,923
Government Branch: Executive Departments

The Department of the Navy had roughly 6,000 civilian personnel outside of the U.S. in 2013, making it one of the most globally expansive agencies on this list.

#3. Department of the Army

Worldwide Employees (Sept. 2013): 264,906
Government Branch: Executive Departments

The largest branch of the Department of Defense, the Department of the Army has over a quarter million civilian employees and more than a million soldiers in the Regular Army, the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve.

#2. Department of Veterans Affairs

Worldwide Employees (Sept. 2013): 323,208
Government Branch: Executive Departments

The Department of Veterans Affairs employees more people than General Electric, which had 307,000 employees worldwide as of Dec. 2013. The VA provides benefits and services to U.S. veterans and their families.

#1. U.S. Postal Service

Worldwide Employees (Sept. 2013): 584,027
Government Branch: Independent Agencies

Perhaps no federal government employee is as ubiquitous or recognizable as the mail carrier. With over 580,000 personnel, the U.S. Postal Service employs more people than any other independent government agency, with the Social Security Administration being a distant second.

Federal Employment by Department

The visualization shows the complete breakdown of federal employment by department. With the exception of the Postal Service, the majority of federal government employees work in executive departments.

Learn More About Government Agencies on InsideGov

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