Policy Guides

The Essential Guide to the Executive Branch

 
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It’s Civics 101. The United States federal government is made up of three branches: legislative, executive and judicial. Each branch’s powers are vested by the U.S. Constitution, and while each has different areas of focus, the system was built so that no single branch of the federal government could become too powerful.

In this guide, we’ll focus on the executive branch, taking a deep dive into its responsibilities, who makes up this branch, their role in regulations and budgeting, and what executive orders are and how they work.

Download the full PDF version here.

Table of Contents:

  1. The Branches of Federal Government
  2. Executive Branch Deep Dive
  3. Executive Orders Deep Dive

THE BRANCHES IN FEDERAL GOVERNMENT

Let’s review: The federal government of the United States is made up of three branches.

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EXECUTIVE BRANCH

Led by the president of the United States, the executive branch is in charge of implementing and enforcing laws written by Congress.

LEGISLATIVE BRANCH

Made up of the Senate, House of Representatives and agencies that support Congress, it is the legislative branch’s job to write, debate and pass laws. Additionally, the Senate is responsible for confirming executive branch nominees and officials, as well as confirming judiciary nominees. Finally, both chambers are responsible for impeachment proceedings of executive and judiciary branch officials.

JUDICIAL BRANCH

Consisting of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and District Courts, it’s this group’s responsibility to interpret the laws passed by the legislative branch and settle arguments about how they are enforced. They have the authority to decide if laws violate the Constitution – this is known as judicial review.


EXECUTIVE BRANCH DEEP DIVE

The power of the Executive branch is vested in the president of the United States. The president is responsible for implementing and enforcing the laws written by Congress and, to that end, appoints the heads of the federal agencies, including the Cabinet.

Who serves in President Trump's Cabinet?

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What departments/agencies are a part of the executive branch?

The term “government agency” also means the United States federal executive departments that include the President’s cabinet-level departments and their subunits. Examples of these agencies include the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which is a bureau of the Department of the Treasury.

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What part does the executive branch play in the budgeting process?

The federal budget process starts in the executive branch of government. The budget sets fiscal policy, proposing how much should be spent on public programs, how much revenue should be generated through taxes and how much of a deficit – or surplus – should be tolerated. Here’s a look at the Congressional Budget Process timeline:

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What is a regulation?

Regulations set specific requirements about what is legal and what is not. Laws state the “what” and regulations state how agencies legislate or enforce the laws. Here’s the lifecycle from the passage of a bill to implementation and enforcement as a rule, and finally, to codification in the United States Code:

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Download the full PDF version here.


DEEP DIVE ON EXECUTIVE ORDERS

What is an executive order?

An executive order is an official, legally binding mandate directed by the president to federal agencies under the executive branch. Executive orders instruct agencies on how to interpret and implement federal law.

What is an executive action?

An executive action is a broad term describing all types of unilateral moves by a president. Executive actions include presidential memorandums and proclamations and carry the same legal effects as an executive order.

What are memorandums and proclamations?

Memorandums are similar to executive orders. However, a memorandum doesn’t have an established process for how the president issues it. Memorandums are hard to track because they are not submitted to the Federal Register. Proclamations are commonly used for ceremonial purposes and don’t normally have any legal effect.

Are executive orders in the Constitution?

According to the Congressional Research Service, “Executive orders, presidential memoranda, and proclamations are used extensively by presidents to achieve policy goals, set uniform standards for managing the executive branch, or outline a policy view intended to influence the behavior of private citizens. The U.S. Constitution does not define these presidential instruments and does not explicitly vest the President with the authority to issue them. Nonetheless, such orders are accepted as an inherent aspect of presidential power. Moreover, if they are based on appropriate authority, they have the force and effect of law.”

AMOUNT OF EXECUTIVE ORDERS BY PRESIDENT AND PARTY

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Download the full PDF version here.


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