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Top 10 Obscure Government Agencies (And What They Do)

by NColes   March 07, 2011 at 7:00AM  |  Views: 20,152

5. Overseas Private Investment Company (OPIC)

The Overseas Private Investment Company is an independent agency of the United States Government that was created by President Nixon in 1971 to help foster U.S. private investment in emerging markets. OPIC’s three principal products are financing, political risk insurance, and support for private equity investment funds. It sounds suspiciously like an overseas version of Fannie Mae, though decidedly more profitable.

Since its inception the group has generated $74 billion in U.S. exports and helped create more than 274,000 U.S. jobs. The agency is self-sustaining and does not cost the US taxpayer one cent. Imagine that. Last year it actually contributed $352 million to the federal budget.

4. U.S. Board on Geographic Names (BNG)

Source: Jorg Greuel/The Image Bank/Getty Images

If you’ve ever wanted to suggest a name for a new street or unnamed mountain or are unsure whether you live on a street, boulevard, or way then you should contact the U.S. Board of Geographic Names. The BNG was created in 1890 and signed into law by President Benjamin Harris. It may be his greatest legacy.

The chief job of the BNG is to “maintain uniform geographic name usage throughout the Federal Government.” Sometimes if a local name is deemed “very offensive” the BNG will decide against adoption of the local name for federal use. With power like that, this is one agency you probably don’t want to mess with.

3. United States Institute of Peace

The United States Institute of Peace, or USIP for short, was created by the United States Congress and signed into law by President Ronald Regan in 1984. The non-partisan agency is a powerful symbol and it’s unfortunate that it has such a low profile. How many countries in the world can lay claim to having a government agency dedicated to peace?

USIP “provides the analysis, training and tools that help to prevent, manage and end violent international conflicts, promote stability and professionalize the field of peace building.” Currently the Institute is working with community leaders in Iraq to help rebuild war-torn neighborhoods, training Nigerian religious leaders to be peacemakers, and working with 75 nations to promote peace.

The Institute’s new home and first permanent headquarters will open in Washington, DC this September.

2. Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG)

The Broadcasting Board of Governors sounds like a fancy gentleman’s club where old-timers from television’s golden age (the black and white days) sit around swirling expensive scotch and talking about the good ol’ days. Sadly, the BBG is not that. Rather, it is a bipartisan, independent agency of the U.S. government charged with operating all non-military, international broadcasting sponsored by the U.S government. This might or might not consist of propaganda.

The BBG aims to serve as “an example of a free and professional press, reaching a worldwide audience with news, information, and relevant discussions.” Currently the BBG operates the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Radio Free Asia (RFA), Radio and TV Martí, and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN)—Radio Sawa and Alhurra Television. Its content is distributed in 59 languages across radio, television, and the Internet and has an estimated weekly audience of over 165 million people.

1. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency

No, this not an intergalactic version of the FBI, but rather a classified part of the Department of Defense. The NGA “develops imagery and map-based intelligence solutions for U. S. national defense, homeland security and safety of navigation.” That basically means they take a bunch of satellite images of the planet and study them for suspicious activity. This is probably why their slogan is “Know the Earth, Show the Way.” So, in a sense, the NGA is a really just a big and super secretive government version of Google Maps, but for the entire planet.