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Government corporations are agencies that conduct business or produce products for the nation. They are often virtual monopolies and have varying degrees of independence from the executive branch. Government corporations are organized like private corporations with a board of directors and a general manager, and they usually charge for their services. The president selects most of the top officers, with confirmation by the Senate. Government corporate agencies receive public funds to serve a public purpose. The first government corporation, the Bank of the U.S., was created by Congress in 1791. Many government corporations were established to administer emergency programs during World War II and the New Deal programs of the Great Depression.

The U.S. Post Office may be the best-known government corporation. It was a Cabinet-level agency from its inception in 1795, until the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970 established the United States Postal Service (USPS). The USPS is the largest government corporation and delivers billions of pieces of mail each year. The agency has always lost money, but Congress has chosen to permit the losses to ensure the system's continuation. While many criticisms have been leveled at the Postal Service, it has been an effective system of letter and package delivery.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) insures individual bank accounts in the event that a bank is unable to pay its depositors. The FDIC was founded during the New Deal years following the public run on banks and President Roosevelt's bank holiday. A sister organization, the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation was exhausted during the 1980s during a series of savings and loan company failures. Afterward, the FDIC began insuring the savings and loan companies.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is responsible for the national space program and aerospace research. Founded in 1958, the corporate agency conducts research into civilian and military aerospace systems. From its beginnings during the Kennedy Administration, through the moon landings and the age of space shuttles, NASA has advanced space exploration using manned and unmanned vehicles.

One of the most controversial and possibly one of the most successful government corporations, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), was created in 1933 as part of President Roosevelt's New Deal. Established to oversee development of the 41,000 square mile Tennessee River Valley, the TVA is relatively independent, with extensive authority over its own programs. It has constructed dams and hydroelectric power plants, established recreation areas, maintained hundreds of miles of navigation channel, and provided electricity for millions of Americans. In addition, the agency has created conservation areas for agriculture and reforestation. The Authority's power program is self-supporting, and the corporation generates impressive revenues from the sale of power, fertilizer, and bonds.

Copyright 2006 The Regents of the University of California and Monterey Institute for Technology and Education