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A government or state agency, often an appointed commission, is a permanent or semi-permanent organization in the machinery of government that is responsible for the oversight and administration of specific functions, such as an intelligence agency. There is a notable variety of agency types. Although usage differs, a government agency is normally distinct both from a department or ministry, and other types of public body established by government. The functions of an agency are normally executive in character, since different types of organizations (such as commissions) are most often constituted in an advisory role—this distinction is often blurred in practice however.
A government agency may be established by either a national government or a state government within a federal system. The term is not normally used for an organization created by the powers of a local government body. Agencies can be established by legislation or by executive powers. The autonomy, independence and accountability of government agencies also vary widely.
Early examples of organizations that would now be termed a government agency include the British Navy Board, responsible for ships and supplies, which was established in 1546 by King Henry VIII and the British Commissioners of Bankruptcy established in 1570.
From the 1980s, as part of New Public Management, several countries including Australia and the United Kingdom developed the use of agencies to improve efficiency in public services.
Administrative law in France refers to autorité administrative indépendante (AAI) or Independent Administrative Authorities. They tend to be prominent in the following areas of public policy;
- Economic and financial regulation
- Information and communication
- Defence of citizens' rights
Independent Administrative Authorities in France may not be instructed or ordered to take specific actions by government.
The General Secretariat for Macedonia and Thrace (Greek: Γενική Γραμματεία Μακεδονίας-Θράκης), previously Ministry for Macedonia and Thrace (Greek: Υπουργείο Μακεδονίας-Θράκης) is a government agency of the Hellenic Republic that is responsible for the Greek regions of Macedonia and Thrace.
The term agency in India has several meanings; for example, the Cabinet and the parliament Secretariat describes itself as a "nodal agency for coordination amongst the ministries of the Govt. of India". Most notably as an international feature, what appear to be independent agencies (or apex agencies) include some that have active roles for Ministers: such as, the National Security Council, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, and the Planning Commission, which is chaired ex officio by the Prime Minister.
Russia has had many government agencies throughout its history. The USSR had the secretive KGB. Today, Russian government agencies such as the FSB, FSO, and the GRU use Spetsnaz or other masked operators for any missions. Other organizations include Kremlin and presidential security.
The Government agencies in Sweden are state controlled organizations who act independently to carry out the policies of the Swedish Government. The Government Ministries are relatively small and merely policy-making organizations, allowed to control agencies by policy decisions but not by direct orders. This means that while the agencies are subject to decisions made by the Government, Ministers is explicitly prohibited (so called "ministerstyre") from interfering with the day-to-day operation in an agency or the outcome in individual cases.
Agencies in the United Kingdom are either executive agencies answerable to government ministers or non-departmental public bodies answerable directly to one of the parliaments or devolved assemblies of the United Kingdom. They are also commonly known as Quangos.
Agencies in England usually answer to Westminster or the British Government. In Scotland they usually answer to the Scottish Government or the Scottish Parliament and in Wales to the National Assembly for Wales.
Some have remits that cover the entire UK and these organisations are funded by and answer to the British Government.
The Congress and President of the United States delegate specific authority to government agencies to regulate the complex facets of the modern American federal state. Also, most of the 50 U.S. states have created similar government agencies.
The term "government agency" or "administrative agency" usually applies to one of the independent agencies of the United States government, which exercise some degree of independence from the President's control. Although the heads of independent agencies are often appointed by the government, they can usually be removed only for cause. The heads of independent agencies work together in groups, such as a commission, board or council. Independent agencies often function as miniature versions of the tripartite federal government with the authority to legislate (through the issuing, or "promulgation" of regulations), to adjudicate disputes, and to enforce agency regulations (through enforcement personnel). Examples of independent agencies include the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), Federal Reserve Board, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
A broader definition of the term "government agency" also means the United States federal executive departments that include the President's cabinet-level departments, and their sub-units. Examples of these agencies include the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which is a bureau of the Department of the Treasury.
Most federal agencies are created by Congress through statutes called "enabling acts" which define the scope of an agency's authority. Because the Constitution does not expressly mention federal agencies (as it does the three branches), some commentators have called agencies the "headless fourth branch" of the federal government. However, most independent agencies are technically part of the executive branch, with a few located in the legislative branch of government. By enacting the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) in 1946, Congress established some means to oversee government agency action. The APA established uniform administrative law procedures for a federal agency's promulgation of rules, and adjudication of claims. The APA also sets forth the process for judicial review of agency action.
- A brief history of the Royal Navy, Royal Navy Museum, accessed at  June 9, 2006
- Macleavy, J. and O. Gay (2005) The Quango Debate, House of Commons Library Research Paper 05/30, p.8 accessed at "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-06-19. Retrieved 2006-06-09. June 9, 2006
- Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India at , accessed June 16, 2006
- Machinery of Government Reform: Principles and Practice in "The Organisation of Central Government Departments: A History 1964-1992", ESRC Whitehall Programme at Nuffield College, University of Oxford. (accessed June 9, 2006)