When people think of government agencies, they usually think of the traditional executive departments in the Cabinet of the President, or perhaps some of the "independent agencies" in the executive branch. However, not all agencies are part of the executive branch. To assist it with effectively carrying out its duties, Congress may establish legislative agencies. These are situated within the legislative branch. Their functions range widely from providing guidance and resources to Congress to maintaining its physical facilities and protecting the safety and rights of legislative branch employees.
For example, the Congressional Budget Office, or CBO, is responsible for preparing independent analyses of economic and budgetary issues to aid Congress. The CBO provides objective, non-partisan economic support, including cost estimates for legislators to include in proposed bills and to project the amount of funding available to existing programs for future years. Congress has also established the Government Accountability Office, or GAO. Led by the United States Comptroller General, the GAO maintains its own Office of General Counsel. GAO’s legal division renders legal decisions, reports, and opinions concerning bid protests in government procurement disputes.
The Library of Congress is another widely recognized legislative agency. It is the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States and acts as the main research hub of Congress. It also maintains the largest library in the world, featuring millions of photographs, books, maps, manuscripts, and recordings.
Other key legislative agencies include the Government Publishing Office (GPO), the Architect of the Capitol, and the Office of Congressional Workplace Rights. The Government Publishing Office produces and distributes information products and services on behalf of the federal government. For example, it handles passports for the Department of State. The Architect of the Capitol ensures that the facilities and grounds on the 570-acre campus of the U.S. Capitol are preserved and maintained at a level appropriate for their significance. The Office of Congressional Workplace Rights, created by the Congressional Accountability Act and formerly known as the Office of Compliance, protects the rights of employees in the federal legislative branch.
The leaders or heads of legislative agencies are not part of the presidential Cabinet. Leaders of legislative agencies can be appointed in a variety of ways. For example, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the president pro tempore of the Senate jointly appoint the head of the CBO. The president has the authority to appoint some legislative agency heads with the advice and consent of the senate, including the GAO and the Library of Congress.
The judicial branch of the federal government also contains agencies that assist the federal courts with carrying out their duties. For example, Congress created the Federal Judicial Center in the 1960s to serve as the education and research agency for the federal courts.
At the state level, legislative agencies serve similar functions and are created by similar means. A state legislature typically enacts a statute that provides for the establishment of a particular agency. State agencies are usually subject to some form of legislative oversight, and they must continually provide reports and updates on their progress.