The Executive Branch of the American Government, from Life in the USA: The Complete Guide for Immigrants and Americans

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Life in the USA
Government and Law
Structure of Government

The Executive Branch
In the United States, the head of Executive Branch of the government is the President of the United States. The President acts as both head of state and head of government, as well as functioning as Commander in Chief of all American armed forces. The role has much power, subject to modification by the legislative and judicial branches of the government.

The American Congress creates laws, but it is up to the President and the Executive Branch to put the laws into effect and to see that they are enforced. When Congress creates a bill to create a law, the President has the power either to sign the bill into law or to veto the bill. Congress may override a veto with a two-thirds vote of both houses (the House of Representatives and the Senate).

The Executive Branch is responsible for diplomacy. The President has the power to negotiate and sign treaties, which become effective only when ratified by two-thirds of the Senate. The President also has unlimited power to extend pardons and clemencies for federal crimes, except in cases of impeachment.

By tradition, the President and the First Family live in the White House in Washington, D.C., also the location of the President's Oval Office and the offices of the senior staff. When the President travels by plane, the presidential aircraft is designated Air Force One.

The Vice President’s main function is to remain ready to fulfill the office of the President in the case of the President’s death or incapacity. This has occurred nine times in American history. The other function of the Vice President is to preside over the United States senate and, if necessary, to cast the deciding vote in the case of a tie.

The President maintains a group of administrators called “the cabinet,” consisting of the heads of 15 executive departments. Each of these functionaries has the title of “Secretary” except for the Justice Department, which is headed by the “Attorney General.” These departments are:

  • The U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) , responsible for farming, agriculture and food.
  • The Department of Commerce, responsible for American industry and trade.
  • The Department of Defense (DOD), headquartered in the Pentagon, and responsible for all American armed forces.
  • The Department of Education.
  • The Department of Energy (DOE).
  • The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which oversees the Medicaid and Medicare programs, as well as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
  • The Department of Homeland Security, which patrols borders and engages in anti-terrorism activities. This relatively new department includes the U.S. Customs Service, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Secret Service, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which includes the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), and promotes housing policies, often with loans.
  • The Department of the Interior, which protects national resource and land. This department also deals with the federal government’s responsibilities toward Native American peoples.
  • The Department of Justice, including the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the U.S. Marshals, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
  • The Department of Labor, dealing with American workers and labor issues, and including the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA).
  • The Department of State, dealing with foreign relations and diplomacy.
  • The Department of Transportation, including the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Federal Transit Administration, the Federal Railroad Administration and the Maritime Administration.
  • The Department of the Treasury, dealing with all financial and federal tax issues, including the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs, responsible for administering benefit programs for veterans, their families, and their survivors.

Next Section: The Legislative Branch

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