Independent Agencies

Although the executive departments are the main operating bodies of the federal government, they are not the only agencies that create, oversee, and supervise the laws of the United States. Congress has created a number of independent agencies to help administer various aspects of the federal government’s power and authority. In most cases, Congress creates an independent agency to supervise an area that is too complex and dynamic to be regulated by the passage of a statute or subsumed within an existing administrative agency. Independent agencies are not subject to direct control by the president or the executive branch, unlike executive agencies. The leaders of independent agencies do not serve as part of the president’s Cabinet.

To create an independent agency, Congress passes a statute granting an agency the authority to regulate and control a specific area or industry. The statute provides clear guidelines for the objectives that the agency must work toward and specifies the extent to which the independent agency may exercise rulemaking authority. The regulations enacted by an independent agency have the full force and power of federal law.

Most executive agencies have a single director, secretary, or administrator appointed by the president to oversee the department’s activities. A commission, board, or body consisting of between five to seven members, on the other hand, typically leads independent agencies. The president appoints the board or commission members subject to the senate’s confirmation. Each member serves for a limited term, which is typically four years, and the members’ terms are staggered in order to prevent the complete turnover of the board all at once.  The majority of independent agencies are subject to statutory bipartisan requirements, which means the president cannot fill vacancies only with members of his political party.

To remove an agency head before the expiration of his or her term, the president must comply with certain statutory requirements. In general, a president can only remove a board member for incompetence, neglect of duty, incapacity, or another form of good cause. If an independent agency exercises executive powers, like rule enforcement, Congress cannot participate in the removal of commissioners from an independent agency.

The jurisdiction of these agencies varies widely. Some are regulatory agencies that supervise specific sections of the economy, while others provide specific governmental or public services. One of the most well known independent agencies is the Central Intelligence Agency, or CIA. The CIA coordinates the investigation and information gathering of all matters related to national and international security. The CIA enlists secret agents who are placed in the field for the purposes of gathering information. The CIA analyzes the intelligence and information that it collects and makes recommendations to the National Security Council.

Another key independent agency is the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA. Established in 1970, the EPA coordinates state and local government activities involving environmental protection. The EPA administers programs designed to curb air pollution, regulate pesticide usage, and resolve issues with solid waste, radiation, and toxic substances.