the general accounting office is an arm of the legislative branch that oversees expenditures by the executive branch. It is headed by the comptroller general of the United States. It settles or adjusts—independently of the executive departments—all claims and demands by or against the federal government, and all money accounts in which the government is concerned. It also checks the ledger accounts of all federal disbursement and collection officers to see that public funds have been paid out legally.
the general services administration controls much of the physical property of the federal government. It is responsible for the purchase, supply, operation and maintenance of federal property, buildings and equipment, and for the sale of surplus items.
the interstate commerce commission regulates the rates and practices in interstate commerce of all common carriers, such as railroads, buses, trucks, and shipping on inland waterways. It supervises the issuance of stocks and bonds by common carriers and enforces safety laws.
THE NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION (NASA), established in 1958 to run the U.S. space program, placed the first American satellites and astronauts in orbit, and launched the Apollo spacecraft that landed men on the moon in 1969. Today, NASA conducts research aboard Earth-orbiting satellites and interplanetary probes, explores new concepts in advanced aerospace technology, and operates the U.S. fleet of manned space shuttles. In the 1990s, NASA will assemble, in space, the components for a permanent space station manned by international crews from the United States, Europe and Japan.
THE NATIONAL FOUNDATION ON THE ARTS AND THE HUMANITIES encourages the development of American arts, literature and scholarship, through grants to individuals, groups, institutions and state agencies.
the national labor relations board administers the principal U.S. labor law, the National Labor Relations Act. The Board is vested with the power to prevent or remedy unfair labor practices and to safeguard employees' rights to organize and determine through elections whether to have unions as their bargaining representative.
the national science foundation was created to strengthen basic research and education in the sciences in the United States. It grants funds for research and education programs to universities and other institutions, and coordinates the science information activities of the federal government.
the office of national drug control policy, created in 1988 to raise the profile of the U.S. government's fight against illegal drugs, coordinates efforts of such agencies as the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the Customs Service and the Coast Guard.
THE OFFICE OF PERSONNEL MANAGEMENT in 1979 assumed functions of the Civil Service Commission, which was created in 1883 to establish a merit system for government service and to eliminate politics from public appointments. The agency holds competitive examinations across the country to select qualified workers for over three million government posts. It also sponsors training programs to increase the effectiveness of government employees.
the peace corps, founded in 1961, trains volunteers to serve in foreign countries for two years. Peace Corps volunteers, now working in more than 60 nations, assist in agricultural-rural development, small business, health, natural resources conservation and education.
THE SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION was established to protect investors who buy stocks and bonds. Federal laws require companies that plan to raise money by selling their own securities to file facts about their operations with the commission. The commission has powers to prevent or punish fraud in the sale of securities, and is authorized to regulate stock exchanges.
the small business administration lends money to small businesses, aids victims of floods and other natural disasters, and helps secure contracts for small businesses to supply goods and services to the federal government.
THE UNITED STATES AGENCY FOR INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT (USAID) carries out economic assistance programs designed to help the people in developing countries develop their human and economic resources, increase their productive capacities, and improve the quality of human life. The USAID administrator also serves as director of the U.S. International Development Cooperation Agency, which serves as the focal point for U.S. participation in such organizations as the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the Organization of American States (OAS) Technical Assistance Funds program, the World Bank Group, and along with the Department of Agriculture, the Food for Peace Program.
THE UNITED STATES ARMS CONTROL AND DISARMAMENT AGENCY is responsible for U.S. participation in international negotiations on arms limitation and disarmament. It represents the United States on international arms control commissions and supports research on arms control and disarmament.
THE UNITED STATES INFORMATION AGENCY (USIA) seeks to promote better understanding of the United States in other countries through the dissemination abroad of information about the nation, its people, culture and policies. USIA also administers a number of two-way educational and cultural exchange programs, such as the Fulbright Program, with foreign nations. It provides assistance to foreign press and television journalists covering the United States. The Agency also advises the president and the various departments of the government on foreign opinion concerning U.S. policies and programs.
the united states postal service is operated by an autonomous public corporation that replaced the Post Office Department in 1971. The Postal Service is responsible for the collection, transportation and delivery of the mails, and for the operation of thousands of local post offices across the country. It also provides international mail service through the Universal Postal Union and other agreements with foreign countries. An independent Postal Rate Commission, also created in 1971, sets the rates for different classes of mail.
THE LEGISLATIVE BRANCH
A BICAMERAL CONGRESS
Article I of the Constitution grants all legislative powers of the federal government to a Congress divided into two chambers. a Senate and a House of Representatives. The Senate, the smaller of the two, is composed of two members for each state as provided by the Constitution, Membership in the House is based on population and its size is therefore not specified in the Constitution.
For more than 100 years after the adoption of the Constitution, senators were not elected by direct vote of the people but were chosen by state legislatures. Senators were looked on as representatives of their home states. Their duty was to ensure that their states were treated equally in all legislation. The 17th Amendment, adopted in 1913, provided for direct election of the Senate.
The delegates to the Constitutional Convention reasoned that if two separate groups—one representing state governments and one representing the people—must both approve every proposed law, there would be little danger of Congress passing laws hurriedly or carelessly. One house could always check the other in the manner of the British Parliament. Passage of the 17th Amendment did not substantially alter this balance of power between the two houses.
While there was intense debate in the Convention over the makeup and powers of Congress, many delegates believed that the legislative branch would be relatively unimportant. A few believed that the Congress would concern itself largely with external affairs, leaving domestic matters to state and local governments. These views were clearly wide of the mark. The Congress has proved to be exceedingly active, with broad powers and authority in all matters of national concern. While its strength vis-a-vis the executive branch has waxed and waned at different periods of American history, the Congress has never been impotent or a rubber stamp for presidential decisions.
QUALIFICATIONS OF MEMBERS OF CONCRESS
The Constitution requires that U.S. senators must be at least 30 years of age, citizens of the United States for at least nine years, and residents of the states from which they are elected. Members of the House of Representatives must be at least 25, citizens for seven years, and residents of the states which send them to Congress. The states may set additional requirements for election to Congress, but the Constitution gives each house the power to determine the qualifications of its members.