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Government structure > Item 1 - Purpose and Function of Our Government - General > PART I > Government 10-K

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The US is a constitutional republic and representative democracy. Our Government is regulated by a system of checks and balances defined by the US Constitution, which serves as the country’s supreme legal document. In the US, citizens are usually subject to three levels of government: federal, state, and local. The original text of the Constitution establishes the structure and responsibilities of the federal government and its relationship with the individual states. The Constitution has been amended 27 times, including the first 10 amendments, the Bill of Rights, which forms the central basis of Americans’ individual rights.

Federal government structure

The Constitution divides the federal government into three branches to ensure a central government in which no individual or group gains too much control:

  • Legislative – Makes laws (Congress)
  • Executive – Carries out laws (President, Vice President, Cabinet)
  • Judicial – Evaluates laws (Supreme Court and other courts)

Each branch of government can change acts of the other branches as follows:

  • The president can veto legislative bills passed by Congress before they become law (subject to Congressional override).
  • Congress confirms or rejects the president’s appointments and can remove the president from office in exceptional circumstances.
  • The justices of the Supreme Court, who can overturn unconstitutional laws, are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

Legislative

The legislative branch enacts legislation, confirms or rejects presidential appointments, and has the authority to declare war. This branch comprises Congress (the Senate and House of Representatives) and several agencies that provide support services to Congress.

Executive

The executive branch carries out and enforces laws. It includes the president, vice president, the Cabinet, 15 executive departments, independent agencies, and other boards, commissions, and committees.

Judicial

The judicial branch interprets the meaning of laws, applies laws to individual cases, and decides if laws violate the Constitution. The judicial branch comprises the Supreme Court and other federal courts.

THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT

THE CONSTITUTION

LEGISLATIVE BRANCH 

 

EXECUTIVE BRANCH 

 

JUDICIAL BRANCH 

 

 

 

 

 

THE CONGRESS

 

THE PRESIDENT

 

THE SUPREME COURT OF

SENATE    |    HOUSE

 

THE VICE PRESIDENT

 

THE UNITED STATES

100 Senators

 

EXECUTIVE OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT

 

9 Justices

435 Representatives

 

Architect of the Capitol

United States Botanic Garden

Government Accountability Office

Government Printing Office

Library of Congress

Congressional Budget Office

US Capitol Police

 

15 Cabinet Members

 

White House Office

Office of the Vice President

Council of Economic Advisers

Council on Environmental Quality

National Security Council

Office of Administration

Office of Management and Budget

Office of National Drug Control Policy

Office of Policy Development

Office of Science and Technology Policy

Office of the US Trade Representative

 

 

United States Courts of Appeals

United States District Courts

Territorial Courts

United States Court of International Trade

United States Court of Federal Claims

Administrative Office of

the United States Courts

Federal Judicial Center

United States Sentencing Commission

SIGNIFICANT REPORTING ENTITIES (15)

DEPARTMENT OF

AGRICULTURE

DEPARTMENT OF

COMMERCE

DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE

DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION

DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY

 

 

 

 

 

DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH

AND HUMAN SERVICES

DEPARTMENT OF

HOMELAND SECURITY

DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING AND URBAN

DEVELOPMENT

DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE

 

 

 

 

 

DEPARTMENT OF LABOR

DEPARTMENT OF STATE

DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY

DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS

OTHER SIGNIFICANT REPORTING ENTITIES

Environmental Protection Agency

General Services Administration

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

National Science Foundation

Office of Personnel Management

Small Business Administration

Social Security Administration

US Agency for International Development

US Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Defense Security Cooperation Agency

Export-Import Bank of the United States

Farm Credit System Insurance Corporation

Federal Communications Commission

Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation

General Fund of the US Government

Millennium Challenge Corporation

National Credit Union Administration

Overseas Private Investment Corporation

Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation

Railroad Retirement Board

Securities and Exchange Commission

Smithsonian Institution

Tennessee Valley Authority

US Postal Service

IN CONSERVATORSHIP

Fannie Mae | Freddie Mac

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SIGNIFICANT RELATED ENTITIES

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Federal Reserve

       The Farm Credit System

 

 

 

Federal Home Loan Banks

 

 

 

 

 

For a discussion of each of the federal government departments and offices, please see The United States Government Manual at https://www.govinfo.gov/app/collection/GOVMAN.

State government structure1

Under the Tenth Amendment to the US Constitution, all powers not granted to the federal government are reserved to the states and the people. All state governments are modeled after the federal government and consist of three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. The US Constitution mandates that states uphold a “republican form” of government, although the three-branch structure is not required.

Legislative

All 50 states have legislatures made up of elected representatives, who consider matters brought forth by the governor or introduced by its members to create legislation that becomes law. The legislature also approves a state’s budget and initiates tax legislation and articles of impeachment. The latter is part of a system of checks and balances among the three branches of government that mirrors the federal system and prevents any branch from abusing its power.

Every state except one has a bicameral legislature made up of two chambers: a smaller upper house and a larger lower house. Together the two chambers make state laws and fulfill other governing responsibilities. The smaller upper chamber is always called the Senate, and its members generally serve longer terms, usually four years. The larger lower chamber is most often called the House of Representatives, but some states call it the Assembly or the House of Delegates. Its members usually serve shorter terms, often two years. Nebraska is the lone state that has just one chamber in its legislature.

Executive

In every state, the executive branch is headed by a governor who is directly elected by the people. In most states, other leaders in the executive branch are also directly elected, including the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the secretary of state, and auditors and commissioners. States reserve the right to organize in any way, so they often vary greatly with regard to executive structure. No two state executive organizations are identical.

Judicial

Most states have a supreme court that hears appeals from lower-level state courts. Court structures and judicial appointments/elections are determined either by legislation or by the state constitution. The state supreme court usually focuses on correcting errors made in lower courts and therefore holds no trials. Rulings made in state supreme courts are normally binding; however, when questions are raised regarding consistency with the US Constitution, matters may be appealed directly to the United States Supreme Court.

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STATE GOVERNMENTS (50)

LEGISLATIVE BRANCH

 

EXECUTIVE BRANCH

 

JUDICIAL BRANCH

 

 

ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES

TO UPPER AND LOWER HOUSES:

 

SENATE

 

HOUSE

(Except Nebraska)

 

GOVERNOR

 

Most states also elect:

LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR

ATTORNEY GENERAL

SECRETARY OF STATE

AUDITORS AND COMMISSIONERS

 

STATE SUPREME COURT

 

Appellate Courts

Trial Courts

Local government structure2

A government is an organized entity that, in addition to having governmental character, has sufficient discretion in the management of its own affairs to distinguish it as separate from the administrative structure of any other governmental unit.

To be counted as a government, any entity must possess all three of the following attributes:

  • Existence as an organized entity – the presence of some form of organization and the possession of some corporate powers, such as perpetual succession, the right to sue and be sued, have a name, make contracts, acquire and dispose of property, and the like.
  • Governmental character – In essence, an organization can only be considered to be a government if it provides services, wields authority, or bears accountability that is of a public nature.
  • Substantial autonomy – This requirement is met when, subject to statutory limitations and any supervision of local governments by the state, an entity has considerable fiscal and administrative independence.

LOCAL GOVERNMENTS (90,075)

GENERAL PURPOSE GOVERNMENTS

 

SPECIAL DISTRICT GOVERNMENTS

(38,779)

 

(51,296) 

 

 

 

County (3,031)

 

Independent School Districts (12,754)

 

Municipality (19,495)

 

Other Special Districts (38,542) 

 

 

Township (16,253)

 

Air transportation

Libraries

 

 

Cemeteries

Mortgage credit

 

 

Corrections

Natural resources

 

 

Electric power

Parking facilities

 

 

Fire protection

Parks and recreation

 

 

Gas supply

Sea and inland port facilities

 

 

Health

Sewerage

 

 

Highways

Solid waste management

 

 

Hospitals

Transit

 

 

Housing and community development

Water supply

 

 

Industrial development

 

 

 

 

 

Insular area government structure

The US has many insular areas, or jurisdictions that are neither a state nor a federal district, including any commonwealth, freely associated state, possession, or territory. Five of the insular areas – Puerto Rico, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, US Virgin Islands, and American Samoa – are self-governing, each with a non-voting member of the House of Representatives and permanent populations. The remaining areas are small islands, atolls, and reefs in the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea. US possession of certain of these areas is disputed by other countries. The population of these areas are excluded from our reported population figures. However, these individuals may contribute to the revenues, expenditures, and other figures included in this report.

American Indian tribal government structure

Our Government officially recognizes 573 Indian tribes in the contiguous 48 states and Alaska. The US observes tribal sovereignty of the American Indian nations to a limited degree, as it does with the states’ sovereignty. American Indians are US citizens and tribal lands are subject to the jurisdiction of the US Congress and the federal courts. Like the states, the tribal governments have a great deal of autonomy with respect to their members, including the power to tax, govern, and try them in court, but also like the states, tribes are not allowed to make war, engage in their own foreign relations, or print and issue currency.