Staff Agencies- Definition, Features, and Functions

What are Staff Agencies?

The term ‘Staff’ in Public Administration comes from the word ‘staff’- something on which one can lean for support. Staff agencies exist and work to support executive power with specialized knowledge and wise counsel. Staff service is primarily a service of advice. It almost always remains in the background. It makes preparation for the executive’s decisions but does not decide itself. Referring to the nature and role of the Staff agencies, Mooney observes, “Staff is an expansion of the personality of the executive. It means more eyes, more ears, and more hands to aid him, informing and carrying out his plans.” According to Marx, “….The Staff simply prepares matters for his (Chief Executive’s) action. It does not issue commands of its own.”

Commonly, Staff activities are mainly concerned with advising, planning, budgeting, personnel, public reporting, and public relations. Thus, Staff includes all those persons who are engaged in acquiring knowledge, who act as think-tank and undertake planning functions.

Thus, Staff Agencies constitute an indispensable supplement to a system of ministries and a descending hierarchy of sub-divisions. Staff Agencies extend the competence of the executive at each level without interfering with the authoritative flow of commands. In short, it can be said that Staff Agencies are the units that assist and advise the executive.

Staff Agencies are of different types from the standpoint of their relations to political programmes and policy decisions.

Pfiffner says, there are three kinds of Staff Agencies:

  • General Staff.
  • Technical Staff.
  • Auxiliary Staff.

The General Staff helps the chief executive in a general manner by giving advice, collecting information, and research. It acts like a filter and a funnel as it lets only the most important matters reach the Chief Executive.

The Technical Staff advises the Chief Executive on technical matters.

The Auxiliary Staff performs functions common to various administrative departments. It prevents duplication of activities.

Thus, the Staff Agencies provide help, assistance, advice, and information to the Chief Executive. The latter cannot work effectively and fully without the help and advice of the Staff. Staff units have little authority and power but they have influence and advice which is equally important. In India, the Prime Minister is the real Chief Executive and the cabinet Secretariat, the PMO, which gives help, assistance, and advice to him in all activities, is a Staff Agency. Even the Finance Department is a Staff Agency.

Features of Staff Agencies:

The following are the features of the Staff Agencies:

(1) Staff Agencies perform Secondary Functions in the Administration- Line Agencies perform the primary functions, and Staff Agencies perform only secondary functions. The role of staff agencies is supportive and advisory in nature. Staff is like a stick that can help in walking. Line functions are to secure the objectives and the staff functions are a means to help the achievement of the end.

(2) Staff Agencies do not exercise Authority and Command- Staff Agencies do not directly exercise authority and command. They advise the ‘Line’ in making decisions. The Line executes the decisions and acts. It has the power to command and control the areas that stand delegated to it by the Chief Executive. The staff has influence and can advise.

(3) Staff Agencies do not have Executive Responsibilities- In administration, the responsibility lies with the Chief Executive. Staff Agencies are only to help and assist the Chief Executive in his work. They are not directly responsible for the executive work. They remain behind the scene. They cannot be held responsible for the success or failure of the administration.

(4) Staff Agencies do not directly Deal with the People- The Line Agencies directly deal with the people and serve them. The Staff Agencies provide service to the Line Agencies. They help, assist and advise the Line Agencies and remain behind the scene. They do not directly deal with the people.

(5) Outside the Line of Command- Staff Agencies are located outside the line of command. They do not enjoy the power to command and control. They, however, do indirectly influence the exercise of command and control powers by the chief executive.

Functions of Staff Agencies:

The Staff Agencies constitute an essential part of every type of administration, without which no administration can work successfully and efficiently. A study of the functions being performed by the Staff Agencies will show clearly how far the Staff Agencies have come to be an integral part of the administration in contemporary times.

Referring to the functions which Staff Agencies are usually performing at present, Prof. Willoughby observes, “Staff duties are…..exclusively of a research, consultative and advisory character. In fact, the Staff is an expansion of the personality of the executive. It means more eyes, more ears, and more hands to aid him in forming and carrying out his plans.”

Pfiffner specifies the following as the functions being performed by the staff:

(1) Advising the Chief Executive as well as the Line Agencies.

(2) Coordination.

(3) Research and fact-finding.

(4) Planning.

(5) Contact with other organizations.

(6) Assisting the Line.

(7) Exercise of delegated authority.

According to Paul Mooney, “The three main functions of the Staff are: informative, advisory and supervisory.”

We can study the main functions of the Staff agencies under the following heads:

(1) To Assist- An important function of a Staff Agency is to assist and support the chief executive in carrying out his work. They reduce his work, relieve him of routine matters, and save his time for important matters.

(2) Information Functions- The information function of the Staff is to collect all relevant data on which the decisions of the Chief Executive are to be based. The Staff has to collect, preserve and provide up-to-date information and data to the Chief Executive.

(3) Advisory Functions- The ‘Staff’ has to advise the Chief Executive. The advice may be accepted or rejected by the Chief Executive. But the view of the Staff is to be taken by the Chief Executive before making a final decision. In fact, the Chief Executive always seeks advice from the Staff Agencies and often holds consultations with them before taking a decision. Advising and consultancy are important functions of all staff agencies.

(4) Supervisory Functions- After a decision has been taken by the Chief Executive, the function of the Staff Agencies is to communicate that decision to other related departments. They have to plan and coordinate their work, maintain contact with all related agencies, and help the Chief Executive in his task. It is the duty of the Staff to help the Line agencies in overcoming their difficulties in the process of implementing the decisions of the Chief Executive.

(5) Delegated Functions- Sometimes, the Chief Executive delegates some authority to a Staff Agency. The Staff Agency has to perform such functions on behalf of the Chief Executive but within clear and defined limits. The Staff Agency can be entrusted with the execution of a desired function on the basis of the specific authority delegated by the Chief Executive.

These are the major functions of the Staff Agencies. Summing up these functions, L. D. White observes that the Staff Agencies perform the following important functions:

(1) To keep the Chief Executive correctly informed.

(2) To assist the executive in foreseeing problems and planning future programmes.

(3) To protect him against hasty judgement.

(4) To protect his time.

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