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Prospects: Lesser-known federal agencies do work we should be grateful for

By Derrick T. Dortch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 24, 2010; 10:09 PM

I am always talking with people about the federal government, whether it be federal workers discussing their jobs, federal workers trying to climb the career ladder, or individuals trying to get hired as federal workers.

Each of these conversations gives me great insight into our government. Yet it can be overwhelming to think about just how much the government does and the massive amount of projects it manages daily. Much of that amazing work never gets recognized. Some of it isn't even known by the general public.

We all know about the State Department, the Justice Department, the FBI, the CIA, the DEA, NCIS, USAID, FEMA, HUD, NASA and, yes, the embattled TSA, which is getting quite a run in the media over its controversial pat-downs at airports.

But many agencies and their critical work never get mentioned - and not insignificantly, they offer opportunities for those seeking meaningful government careers.

International affairs: The African Development Foundation, Inter-American Foundation, Millennium Challenge Corp. and the Peace Corps work to help end poverty around the world. These agencies are the arm of foreign diplomacy, and with the exception of the Peace Corps, they operate without much publicity.

There is also the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which includes the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, Radio and TV Marti, and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks - Radio Sawa and Alhurra Television. The work of BBG reaches a worldwide audience of 165 million people in 59 languages via radio, TV, the Internet and other new media.

National security and defense: The Defense Threat Reduction Agency works to counter weapons of mass destruction, and the National Nuclear Security Administration is on the front line of reducing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and materials. The Bureau of Industry and Security from the Department of Commerce, with its effective export control and treaty compliance, works to stop the spread of weapons to terrorists and countries of concern. And the Defense Security Cooperation Agency works to build partnerships with foreign allies through security cooperation and assistance.

Homeland security: The U.S. Fire Administration works to prevent the loss of life from fires, and the Federal Protective Service works to keep government buildings and employees safe.

Energy/science/research: The Energy Information Administration collects, analyzes and disseminates independent and impartial information to promote policymaking, efficient markets and public understanding of energy and how it affects the economy and the environment. It has a great Web site called Energy Kids, which isn't just useful for children. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency maintains the technological superiority of the U.S. military; its work created something we now can't live without: the Internet.

Health: The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality is charged with improving the nation's medical care. The Armed Forces Retirement Homes provide a community for retired veterans.

The economy: The Economic Development Administration, the Minority Business Development Agency, the International Trade Administration, the USDA's Foreign Agriculture Service and the Export-Import Bank of the United States all work to look out for U.S. business interests at home and abroad.

These agencies are just a small sampling of some that many don't often hear about, though their efforts yield important benefits. Maybe they'll be on your radar when you're thinking about a federal career. They certainly should be on everyone's radar on this day of gratitude.

Got a question about getting hired? Post it in the comments section for the Prospects column at washingtonpost.com/fedpage, or e-mail Derrick T. Dortch at federalworker@washpost.com.

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