Undersecretary (or under secretary) is a title for a person who works for and has a lower rank than a secretary (person in charge). It is used in the executive branch of government, with different meanings in different political systems, and is also used in other organizational settings.
In government, the position may be a junior government minister (e.g. a parliamentary secretary) who assists a secretary of state. In other cases, the position may be a senior government official, frequently a career public servant, who typically acts as a senior administrator. The senior administrator may be considered a second-in-command to a politically appointed cabinet minister or other government official (e.g. in the United States), or they may be considered a head or chief executive of a government department (e.g. a permanent secretary). Some systems of government have both types of position, as in the United Kingdom where the title has been in use since the 17th century.
In Hong Kong, undersecretary is a position created in 2008 to work closely with bureau secretaries and top civil servants to implement the Chief Executive's policy blueprint and agenda in an executive-led government. The appointment of undersecretaries and political assistants is an extension of the Principal Officials Accountability System into today's Political Appointments System.
In India, undersecretary is an officer level secretariat post in central ministries, tenanted by officers of various civil services, usually promoted officers from the Group 'B' (section officers) of the Central Secretariat Service, or the newly appointed officers of the Indian Administrative Service, or other Group 'A' services on deputation in the central government in early stages of their careers with a minimum of 7–8 years of service.
Officers in this capacity further manage desk or section officers within a ministry or central regulatory body. Undersecretaries occupy gazetted civil service posts in India, unlike in some Western democracies, where they are political appointees. An undersecretary will typically report to a deputy secretary, or a director to the Government of India.
In Italy, Undersecretary is a second-in-command to a politically appointed Minister. In particular, he/she is appointed with a President of the Republic Decree, on proposal of the Prime Minister, who previously agreed such proposal with the relevant Minister.
In the Netherlands, a State Secretary (Dutch: staatssecretaris) is the title of a junior member of the Cabinet of the Netherlands; they are sometimes referred to as Undersecretaries. They take over part of the portfolio of a certain minister and falls under the responsibility of that minister, but is at the same time also separately responsible to the States General of the Netherlands. They do not attend the weekly Council of Ministers unless specifically invited. Some are allowed to use the title "minister" in meetings with foreign colleagues who are responsible for the same topic area (who may be ministers).
In Portugal the level of undersecretary is not a pro-forma echelon in the executive hierarchy. Such posts are created on an ad hoc basis as required. It is the lowest rung in the executive power. There is currently only one undersecretary of State in the present government.
In the Spanish Government, the Undersecretary is a political appointee charged with the daily representation of a ministry, the management of the common services and personnel. The position is equivalent to the British Permanent Secretary. The Undersecretary reports to the Minister, and is appointed by the King on the advice of the Council of Ministers.
The title of Under-Secretary is used in two different contexts in the British political system. A Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State is a junior member of the government, always an MP from the governing party, who is appointed to assist a Secretary of State or other government minister. They rank between a Minister of State and a Parliamentary Private Secretary; the rank is usually seen as a stepping-stone to higher political office. The title originated in the 17th century.
In contrast, a Permanent Under-Secretary of State is the full title of a Permanent Secretary, a senior civil servant employed to head part of a government department and oversee the implementation of policy.
In the United States executive branch, an undersecretary is a senior official in a government department, junior to a departmental Secretary such as the Secretary of State and usually junior to a Deputy Secretary as well. An Undersecretary is typically a political appointee. They may head specific sub-departments or agencies such as the Defense Intelligence Agency, or be responsible for a specific area of policy within the department, e.g. the Undersecretary for Management within the Department of State. Before 1972, "Undersecretary" (also spelled "Under Secretary") signified the senior deputy to a cabinet Secretary, especially of State and Treasury. The office of Under Secretary of State was replaced by the Deputy Secretary of State and the office of Under Secretary of the Treasury was replaced by the Deputy Secretary of the Treasury.
- Mary Ma, "It pays to be forward looking" Archived 2011-05-22 at the Wayback Machine, The Standard, June 04, 2008
- "Staatssecretaris". www.parlement.com.
- "3=Lei n.º 524 de 5 de maio de 1916 (Criando os lugares de sub-secretários de Estado dos Ministérios das Colónias, Finanças e Guerra" (PDF). www.dre.pt.
- Sainty, J. C. (1973). "Introduction". Office-Holders in Modern Britain: Volume 2 - Officials of the Secretaries of State 1660-1782. University of London. pp. 1–21.
The first question to be considered in the light of the memorandum of 1684 is the origin of the office of Under Secretary. It should be emphasised in this connection that the term 'Under Secretary', although found in use as early as 1672, passed only gradually into general currency.