The laws and policies governing the care and use of animals in research in the US require institutions to establish training programs to assure that personnel are qualified for their roles in animal care and use programs. Few programs define specific training requirements for the Institutional Official (IO), one of the most important roles in an animal care program. In some cases, IOs may have little or no experience in biomedical science. In this article, the author provides an overview of the IO's role in an animal care and use program as defined by US government laws and policies for use in training IOs and chief executive officers. The author outlines the key responsibilities of the IO in an animal care program, the implications of noncompliance with federal requirements and some of the pitfalls in program design.