What is the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)?

The meaning of US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) is a branch of the US Department of the Treasury responsible for administering and enforcing sanctions that are imposed by either the United States or the United Nations. OFAC operates in support of national security, foreign policy, and economic objectives. The agency works to combat terrorism, advance global human rights efforts, promote regional stability, prevent money laundering and illicit financing activity, and address other threats posed by foreign entities.

OFAC carries out its mission through issuing regulations referred to as "economic sanctions". Sanctions are essentially penalties imposed on a particular target or country which can come in many forms such as trade embargoes, asset freezes, travel restrictions, financial prohibitions, and more. OFAC also monitors and attempts to prevent violations of these sanctions. When violations are identified, OFAC pursues appropriate action including civil or criminal penalties.

OFAC works closely with other government agencies such as the US Department of Justice, Customs and Border Protection, the State Department and foreign governments in order to maximize its enforcement efforts. The agency also provides public outreach services which include education on current restrictions, assistance programs that provide guidance on compliance requirements, and resources for those affected by sanctions program restrictions.

The work done by OFAC is critical to ensuring that US foreign policy objectives are met while protecting our national security interests. By using economic measures such as sanctions against hostile actors, OFAC helps protect American citizens from terrorist threats and other illegal activities. In addition, by raising awareness about compliance requirements and providing assistance to those affected by sanctions programs, OFAC helps ensure that US foreign policy objectives are achieved in a fair and effective manner.

Simplified Example

The US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) is like a group of people in charge of making sure that no one is doing anything bad with money from other countries. Imagine you and your friends are playing a game where you have to trade things with each other, and some of your friends are from other countries. The group of people in charge, similar to OFAC, would make sure that no one is cheating or doing something unfair with the things they traded, and that everything is done legally and ethically. OFAC does the same thing but for real money and assets from other countries, and makes sure that no one is using that money for illegal or harmful activities.

History of the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)

Established in December 1950 as a response to China's involvement in the Korean War, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) operates as a division within the United States Department of the Treasury, entrusted with the administration and enforcement of economic and trade sanctions. The national emergency declared by President Truman during the Korean War led to the blocking of all Chinese and North Korean assets subject to U.S. jurisdiction. Throughout its existence, OFAC has been instrumental in executing U.S. foreign policy objectives, leveraging economic sanctions as a tool to influence foreign governments and prompt alterations in their conduct.


Cuba Embargo: The OFAC administers the economic sanctions against Cuba, which prohibits most transactions between US citizens and the Cuban government.

Iran Sanctions: OFAC implements economic sanctions against Iran in response to its nuclear proliferation and support of international terrorism.

North Korea Sanctions: OFAC enforces sanctions against North Korea to pressure the country to abandon its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs and to address human rights abuses.

In each of these examples, OFAC is responsible for enforcing the sanctions by prohibiting transactions and freezing assets related to the targeted countries, individuals, or entities. The goal of these sanctions is to use economic pressure to change the behavior of the target country or entity.

  • Regulatory Compliance: The process of adhering to laws and regulations set by government agencies and other governing bodies.

  • United States House Committee on Financial Services: Has jurisdiction over a vast array of financial services and institutions, ranging from banks to credit unions, insurance companies to securities exchanges.