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Secretary vs Minster

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  • Secretary vs Minster

    In the United States, the head of a federal government department is a civilian appointed 'Secretary' who you would hope would have relevant subject matter and management experience to efficiently run his department. As I understand it, he is then overseen by a House or Senate committee.

    In Canada or the UK, the head of a federal government department is an elected member of parliament called a 'Minister'. I am unsure of the oversight method in this situation despite being a resident of Canada.

    Given the limited number of members of parliament, I'm sure Ministers are chosen who have some knowledge of their departments activities, but it seems more risky then being able to appoint a Secretary from the civilian population who may be more capable of directing a particular department. Of course Secretary appointments may be more political then practical.

    Is there a governmental system where a civilian is appointed to run a government department in conjunction with a Minister or under his direct oversight (ie, not a committee but more of a partnership)?

  • #2
    The German system oddly enough has both kinds - the opposite way.

    Ministers are appointed by the president on nomination from the chancellor - or at state level appointed by the minister-president. They can be, but do not have to be members of parliament - since 1949 there have been on average 3 ministers (i.e. broadly 20-25%) in every government who were not members of parliament; it tends to be more so nowadays than it used to. Ministers are the head of their department, act on their own responsibility and only have to follow political guidelines given by the chancellor - or at state level the minister-president - without micromanagement from up top. There are no oversight committees btw - in order to satisfy division of powers between legislative and executive.

    Parliamentary State Secretaries are appointed to support ministers (at federal or state level) - and, if required, act in their stead in political matters (there's a ministerial director as deputy for administrative matters); unlike ministers they do not get a vote in the ministerial council of the cabinet though. For this post at federal level they have to be members of parliament.
    Factually though, these secretaries are mostly posts to satisfy important party members of government who did not get a minister post. State Secretaries of this type were introduced in Germany in the early 70s. In some states such state secretaries do not have to be members of parliament; they are then called political state secretaries.


    • #3
      A US Secretary has a couple of layers of political appointees below her, and then a professional civil service staff to actually run the department. Almost all of the political layers will be policy experts.

      In Congress, representatives chair committees charged with drafting legislation or conducting oversight of certain policy areas which may -- or may not -- correspond to specific administrative departments. Again, their committees have policy professionals on staff.
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