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Responsibilities of the President, Executive Agencies

executive agencies, National Labor Relations Board, Central Intelligence Agency, United States Postal Service, Space Administration

The increasing power of modern presidents does not violate the Constitution by encroaching on the other branches of government. Rather, executive authority has expanded because of the loosely defined nature of the president’s powers in the Constitution. In Article II of the Constitution, the president is charged with seeing that “the Laws be faithfully executed.” It would be difficult for one individual to oversee all aspects of a modern industrialized society like that of the United States. Thus the executive branch has established a large number of agencies that carry out some of the executive functions of the government. Many full-time government employees participate in defining, regulating, and carrying out the various functions of the executive branch.

There are 15 departments of the executive branch. The heads of these departments, called secretaries, make up the Cabinet, a body that advises the president on matters of policy and government administration. There are also more than 140 executive agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the National Labor Relations Board, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the United States Postal Service.

The difference between departments and executive agencies is both historical and functional. Departments, many of which were created in the 19th century, are authorized by Congress; their chiefs sit in the Cabinet, and they often deal with large policy issues. Executive agencies, on the other hand, are usually designed to carry out specific tasks. Most executive agencies are contained within departments, as one part of a larger organization. For example, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is an agency within the Department of the Treasury that fulfills the highly specialized function of regulating taxation. However, a few executive agencies, such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), are independent.

Executive agencies have expanded in the 20th century to keep pace with a changing society and its growing needs. Large programs, such as Social Security, have grown to require more government workers to administer them. National security needs have also grown as the United States has taken a more active role in the world. The CIA and the National Security Agency (NSA) were created to protect Americans and maintain the security of the United States.

Many executive agencies establish safety standards. For instance, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, issued rules in 1998 requiring drug companies to conduct wider testing of drugs in order to have more precise information about the use of medications on children. While drug companies challenged these regulations as burdensome, consumer and parent groups praised them as important safeguards.

Americans sometimes complain about the size of the federal government and especially that of the executive branch, which employs 98 percent of all national government personnel. This impression, however, should be measured against the growth of the American work force and the increases in state and local bureaucracies. In 1998 nearly 4.2 million people worked for the executive branch: 1.4 million were uniformed military employees and 2.7 million were civilians. However, the proportion of federal workers to the total American work force has not increased since 1950 and in fact has been declining since the 1980s. It has also declined relative to the number of local public employees, suggesting that although the number of federal employees is large, if measured against the general population, its growth has not been disproportionate.

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