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What is the U.S. Treasury?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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The United States Treasury is a Cabinet-level agency which oversees government revenue and works to maintain the American economy. The head of the US Treasury is the Secretary of the Treasury, a member of the Presidential Cabinet. Another prominent member of the Treasury staff is the Treasurer of the United States. The signatures of the Secretary and Treasurer appear in facsimile on American paper currency, as any readers who happen to have some American dollars around can verify.

All governments need treasuries to thrive, so it should not come as a surprise to learn that the US Treasury is almost as old as the United States itself. The Treasury was established in 1789, and it was initially headed by Alexander Hamilton, who is honored on the 10 dollar bill along with the Treasury Department itself. The position of Treasurer of the United States is even older, dating to 1775.

One of the key roles of the US Treasury is the production of American coins and paper currency. Under the supervision of the Treasurer of the United States, the Bureau of Printing and Engraving and the United States Mint produce currency as required to replace worn and damaged currency and to meet the Treasury's needs. The US Treasury also collects federal tax revenues, using its Internal Revenue Service division, an agency familiar to many Americans.

In addition to printing money and collecting taxes, the Treasury also provides policy recommendations for American financial institutions, and manages the nation's public debt. The Treasury also has departments which deal with law enforcement issues, including an office which focuses on tracking down funds used to finance terrorism, and a law enforcement branch which investigates counterfeiting, financial fraud, tax evasion, smuggling, and other matters of interest to the US Treasury.

Until 2003, the Secret Service was part of the US Treasury, as were the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and the United States Customs Service. These agencies were transferred to the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security as part of a larger government reorganization which was designed to make the United States government more efficient and more effective in the fight against terrorism. Over 100,000 people are employed by the US Treasury, ranging from law enforcement agents working in the field to policy makers in the Treasury's headquarters in Washington, DC.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
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