Other government officials have flags, they’re just not flown in public

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s practice of flying his flag at his department’s headquarters has raised eyebrows — and cast light on the obscure fact that many top federal government officials have flags.

Civilian officials down to assistant department secretaries and diplomats have their own flags, but they’re typically not flown in public, said Joseph McMillan, a retired Defense Department official and flag expert from Alexandria, Va., who is president of the American Heraldry Society.

“In my experience, throughout the government everybody who’s entitled to a flag has it in his office,” he said. “It’s pretty much behind the desk.”


Zinke, a former Navy SEAL commander, appeared to be engaging in a practice resembling the military practice of top commanders flying their flags at their bases. The secretary of state’s flag also flies outside the State Department, McMillan noted.

Zinke’s personal flag practice is otherwise unique in the Trump administration, the Post reported.

Here is a sample of some flags of top federal officials. Often, they are a variation on their department’s flag, McMillan said.

Secretary of State

Secretary of Commerce

Secretary of Transportation

Deputy Secretary of Transportation

Assistant Secretary of Transportation

Secretary of Homeland Security

Flags for federal government officials originated with the secretary of the Navy in 1866, McMillan said. The flag was intended to help sailing ships in the fleet recognize the ship carrying the commander. By the early 20th century, other federal agency heads had gotten their own flags.

Even the governor of Massachusetts has his own flag, McMillan said, a triangular pennant version of the state flag.

The governor’s office said it has one, but it stays in the governor’s ceremonial office.