The U.S. Constitution never defines, explains, or establishes any executive departments. It was up to President George Washington, after he took office in 1789, to set a precedent and define the structure of the executive branch of government. Take a look at the departments of State, Treasury, and Justice—and the related world of espionage.
In this guide, we will discuss:
• State Department-related sites
• Treasury Department-related sites
• Department of Justice-related sites
• Espionage-related sites
State Department-Related Sites
The work of the U.S. Department of State is vital for America’s security and prosperity. However, for a long time, very few people understand the breadth and significance of its work. That is why, in the late 1990s, Ambassador Stephen Low and Senator Charles McCurdy Mathias of Maryland created the Diplomacy Center Foundation. The foundation’s goal was to create a museum in D.C. dedicated to the history and accomplishments of the State Department.
That museum, now called the United States Diplomacy Center, opened in late 2018. It is located at 330 21st Street NW. The museum’s 7,000 or so objects from U.S. diplomatic history include documents, equipment, diplomatic gifts, and even a large segment of the Berlin Wall featured in the center of the pavilion. The museum also features interactive exhibits.
Another component of the Diplomacy Center is its education program. The center has developed classroom materials for middle school, high school, college, and graduate students that allow them to role-play through realistic foreign relations scenarios and find peaceful solutions. The materials are available online to any teacher in the world, and the Diplomacy Center features a wired classroom that will let students run simulations on-site.
Long before the Diplomacy Center was even dreamed of, visitors came to the State Department to tour the Diplomatic Reception Rooms. As the name implies, these rooms are used for receptions and ceremonies during visits from foreign leaders and diplomats. When not in use, they are open to the public Monday through Friday, with three timed tours each day.
In addition to the stellar architecture and fascinating history, these 42 rooms contain a remarkable collection of art and antiques dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. The reception rooms are one of D.C.’s hidden gems, offering a rare glimpse at both political history and the history of American arts, crafts, and design.
Treasury Department-Related Sites
The United States Treasury Department Building is located on 15th Street NW, next door to the White House. Three Treasury buildings have stood on this site, with the first two succumbing to fire.
The various wings of the third building were completed between 1836 and 1869, and they represent some of the most beautiful 19th-century architecture in the city. A bronze statue of Alexander Hamilton—the first secretary of the treasury—was installed in the 1920s, and it graces the building’s south side.
A tour of the Treasury Building is mostly an architectural tour, and to book one, you will have to contact your congressional representative. Among the building’s interesting features is the second-floor vault. This vault was constructed in 1864, then later covered by renovations and only rediscovered in the 1980s.
Another interesting site is the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, located down 15th Street and south of the National Mall. About half of all U.S. paper currency is printed in this facility. (The other half is produced in the bureau’s facility in Fort Worth, Texas.) Between the two facilities, the bureau prints about 6.6 billion individual notes a year.
You can watch the entire printing process in person. The bureau offers tours every weekday (except federal holidays) between 9:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. in the spring and summer and 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. in the fall and winter. These tours are free, but during the busy season in spring and summer, you do need a timed ticket to enter.
Same-day, timed tickets are distributed on-site, starting at 8:00 a.m., on a first-come, first-served basis. Larger groups can reserve tickets by phone in advance.
Department of Justice-Related Sites
The Department of Justice is responsible for enforcement of federal law and prosecution of federal offenders, for representing the U.S. government in courts of law, and for ensuring public safety against foreign and domestic threats. It also provides federal policy on crime prevention and ensures that all the nation’s courts administer justice in a fair and impartial manner.
One of its most well-known divisions is the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or FBI. It is headquartered at the J. Edgar Hoover Building, which is on Pennsylvania Avenue NW between 9th and 10th Streets. This is a modern office building full of hard-working law enforcement professionals. You can learn their real stories by taking a tour called the FBI Experience.
The FBI Experience is a self-guided, multimedia tour through 14,000 square feet of exhibits chronicling the history of the FBI, its work, its achievements, and its research about the future of law enforcement. You can enjoy interactive exhibits, like one that challenges you to identify a suspect in a crowd, or you can talk with any of the staff members who are there to answer your questions and enrich your experience of the objects on display.
However, you cannot simply walk up to the J. Edgar Hoover Building and hop on a tour. To visit, you need to schedule your tour in advance through your congressional representative. Security is very tight: You may not bring any type of bag larger than a wallet or clutch purse, and the only cameras allowed are the ones on your smartphones. Unfortunately, for security reasons, the tour does not allow foreign citizens into the building. Only U.S. citizens and valid green card holders are admitted. A full list of restrictions is available on the FBI’s website.
A Big Job
The Department of Justice has experienced an incredible amount of growth over the years. President Washington’s attorney general, Edmund Randolph, was the entire department in 1789. Moreover, it was his part-time job.
If you cannot visit the FBI Experience—or if you do, but want more adventure and espionage—there two more locations to check out. The first is the International Spy Museum. This museum in downtown D.C. is dedicated to the art, science, and history of international espionage. It holds the largest collection of such exhibits and objects in the world.
The other site for espionage buffs is the National Cryptologic Museum. This museum is not in D.C. itself. It is near the NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, about halfway between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore.
For lovers of military history, espionage history, mathematics, or puzzles, it is definitely worth the trip. Chronicling the development of cryptography and code breaking from the American Revolution to the present day, the museum demonstrates how this unique branch of spycraft has had an outsized impact on both American and world history.
Use these online resources to help plan your trip.
United States Diplomacy Center
State Department Diplomatic Reception Rooms
Bureau of Engraving and Printing (moneyfactory.gov)
The FBI Experience Tour
International Spy Museum
National Cryptologic Museum