A bureau of the United States Department of the Interior, it is that department's sole scientific agency.
The USGS employs approximately 8,670 people and is headquartered in Reston, Virginia.
The USGS also has major offices in Lakewood, Colorado (Denver Federal Center), and Menlo Park, California
Prompted by a report from the National Academy of Sciences the USGS was created by an act of Congress on March 3, 1879.
It was charged with the "classification of the public lands, and examination of the geological structure, mineral resources, and products of the national domain." This task was driven by the need to inventory the vast lands added to the United States by the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and the Mexican-American War in 1848.
Clarence King, the first director of USGS, assembled the new organization from disparate regional survey agencies.
After a short tenure, King was succeeded in the director's chair byJohn Wesley Powell.