Executive Offices

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Executive offices are those held and directly controlled by mayors, governors, city managers, county supervisors, and the president of the United States. They encompass heads of local, state, and national governments. They formulate and project policy, prepare budgets, handle major emergencies, appoint and nominate leaders and judges, and work to improve the lot of constituents, among other activities.

Organization and Structure

The three basic types of municipal government structures in the United States are mayor-council, commission, and council-manager. Although they typically oversee relatively small geographical units, local governments may exercise great control over the daily lives of their constituents. They are charged, for example, with providing fire and police protection, waste disposal, and other services.

In the mayor-council government, the mayor is elected as the executive and usually controls the council, which is also elected. The council formulates ordinances that the mayor enforces. Some systems use a weak-mayor system, in which the mayor is subordinate to the council. Examples of large cities with mayor-council organizations are Boston, New York, Chicago, and Seattle.

In contrast, a commission government consists of several commissioners elected to serve as heads of city departments. The presiding commissioner usually acts as the mayor. Cities with commissioners include Tulsa and Salt Lake City.

A council-manager government has an elected council. The council hires a city manager to run various city departments. The city manager is the chief executive of the city and is ultimately responsible for running the government and advising the council. The council also elects a mayor to chair the council and officiate at major functions and events. Des Moines and Cincinnati have council-manager governments.

The United States Conference of Mayors was organized to improve municipal government through cooperation with the federal government. In 2009, it was comprised of 1,202 mayors from cities with a population of more than 30,000. According to the Census Bureau, the largest cities by population as of 2008 were New York (8.36 million), Los Angeles (3.38 million), Chicago (2.85 million), Houston (2.24 million), Phoenix (1.57 million), and Philadelphia (1.45 million).

The 50 state governments are structured similarly to the government of the United States. Each state has an executive, legislative, and judicial branch, as well as its own constitution. The executive branch is headed by a governor whom the voters elect. Below the governor is the lieutenant governor. Among the primary duties of the governor's office are the preparation of a state budget and the guidance of new legislation. In addition, a governor acts as the commander-in-chief of the state militia (national guard) during times of peace.

In accomplishing his or her responsibilities, the governor enjoys the power to summon special sessions of the legislature, veto legislation, and issue pardons and commute sentences for most crimes. Although the executive powers afforded most governors may seem extensive, their authority is often diminished by the existence of independent agencies over which they have little control.

Most governors are elected to four-year terms, but several states have a limit of two years. Other states set no limit on the number of terms a governor may serve. They may be forcibly removed from office, however, through impeachment or recall.

The United States has a presidential government, which is distinguished by the fact that it is practically independent of the federal legislative branch. This contrasts with cabinet governments, utilized in many European nations, in which the executive body is drawn from and responsible to the legislative arm. As a result, the president is solely responsible to the voters and theoretically is free from congressional control.

The president has expansive powers granted by the Constitution. Paramount are the president's duties as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, the authority to declare war and to make treaties, the ability to veto legislation, and the role as ceremonial head of state. In addition to the formal powers provided by the Constitution, the office of the president has evolved into a much more powerful government entity than was conceived by the founding fathers. The president is responsible for conducting foreign affairs, appointing judges and other officials, and initiating and developing legislation. Furthermore, the president has effectively become a guardian of the economy and is held largely responsible for factors such as the employment rate and standard of living.

The president is chosen through an electoral college. Voters choose electors on the state level who have been nominated by political parties and have pledged to vote for that party's candidate. Each state is allowed a number of electors equal to the combined total of its representatives and senators. The candidate who receives the majority of electoral votes receives the presidency. In the elections of 1800 and 1824, no candidate won a majority, so the House of Representatives selected the president.

The president serves a term of four years and is limited to two elected terms and a total of 10 years in office. To be eligible for the office, he or she must be a natural-born citizen of at least 35 years of age, have resided in the United States for 14 or more years, and not have a felony conviction.

The office of the president has more than 17 offices. Among them are the office of the vice president; the White House office, which encompasses counselors, staff, and assistants; the National Security Council, which advises on military policy; the Office of Homeland Security; the Council of Economic Advisers; and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The OMB is one of the most consequential executive offices. It evaluates, formulates, and coordinates management procedures and program objectives within federal departments and agencies. It also advises the president on relative legislation and proposals.

Although not clearly defined in the Constitution, the cabinet is described in the Twenty-Fifth Amendment as "the principal officers of the executive departments." An institution of tradition and custom dating back to George Washington, the cabinet is composed primarily of the heads of the 14 executive departments. It also may include the vice president and heads of other federal departments and agencies, as well as other individuals selected by the president. Cabinet appointments are subject to confirmation by the Senate. The Cabinet's sole function is to advise the president.

Background and Development

According to a 2003 report released by the United States Conference of Mayors and Global Insight, local metropolitan areas drive the nation's economy. They accounted for 85 percent of national output and 87 percent of the nation's economic growth from 1992 to 2002. In 2002, there were 87,900 identified units of government operating in the United States, comprising 87,849 local governments, 50 state governments, and the federal government. Local governments were further subclassified as 3,043 county governments; 19,431 municipal governments; 16,506 town/township governments; 13,522 school districts; and 35,356 special districts. State and local governments took in approximately $1.3 trillion dollars in revenues in 2001 and employed 307,000 persons (full-time equivalents) for government administration alone.

According to 2005 industry statistics, there were 9,297 executive offices in the United States representing 26.7 percent of the industry total, with a workforce of 462,970 federal employees boasting $48 billion in annual receipts. City and town managers' offices totaled 16,360 locations, or 47 percent of the total, with 460,561 employees. There were 3,496 Mayors' offices, or 10 percent of the industry total, staffed by 162,016 people. County supervisors' and executives' offices numbered 2,474, with a staff of 85,166 people. Although governors operated only 390 offices, the related workforce stood at 45,946 employees.

According to a survey conducted by the governors' group and the National Association of State Budget Officers, in fiscal 2005 revenues for most states improved significantly, as reported in the The New York Times. Furthermore, revenues collected for the state general fund increased 4.7 percent, or $521 billion. That trend would continue into 2006, with a 3.6 percent increase, or nearly $540 billion. Following a period of reduced revenues, governors in almost every state reported that tax collections (personal income, corporate income, and sales tax) surpassed budgeted amounts.

Following the attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001, the United States Conference of Mayors were instrumental in drafting the National Action Plan for Safety and Security in America's Cities. After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the National Action Plan was updated in October 2005 and forwarded to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, as well as to Congress. "The nation's mayors continue to focus on the need to strengthen emergency preparedness and homeland security," explained Conference of Mayors President and Dearborn, Michigan, Mayor Michael Guido. According to a 2006 survey released by the United States Conference of Mayors, of 183 cities from 38 states, larger cities were more prepared than smaller cities for a terrorist attack or natural disaster. In July 2006, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security allocated $48 million to fund state and local officials under the Buffer-Zone Protection Program.

According to a 2006 report released by the United States Conference of Mayors and Global Insight, local metropolitan areas accounted for 86.3 percent of the nation's growth. Global Insight suggested this trend would continue into 2015, when the metropolitan areas would account for 88.5 percent of the nation's growth, for an estimated $21 trillion. Accordingly, by 2030, metropolitan areas will account for more than 91 percent of national output.

Current Conditions

According to industry statistics, in 2009, there were over 31,500 individual units in this industry sector, which employed more than 1.3 million people. City and town managers' offices accounted for over 50 percent of the industry, with 16,027 firms, and employed over 455,000. Executive offices accounted for 13.4 percent of firms (4,228 firms) and employed approximately 343,000, followed by mayors offices (3,213 firms; 169,000 employees), local government executive offices (3,170 firms; 92,000 employees), county supervisors' and executives' offices (2,130 firms; 107,000 employees), and county government executive offices (1,705 firms; 93,000 employees).

In 2008, the U.S. economy slid into an economic recession that caused budgetary concerns at all levels of government, from local to national. Nine states failed to balance their budgets on time (Arizona, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan). Numerous states had individual problems of particular significance. For example, California was faced with a severe budget shortfall following the collapse of the housing market, requiring state legislators and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to cut state services and issue IOUs to the state's creditors. In January 2009, the Illinois state senate voted unanimously to remove the state's top executive, Governor Rod Blagojevich, from office after a four-day impeachment trial. Blagojevich was accused of 13 counts of abuse of power, including federal charges stemming from an attempt to auction off then-President-Elect Barack Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat. Finally, the collapse of the U.S. auto industry caused particular hardship in the state of Michigan. Both General Motors and Chrysler filed for bankruptcy, and overall, U.S. auto sales were down by 32 percent on the year for General Motors, 20 percent for Ford, and 38 percent for Chrysler.

As unemployment rose to over 10 percent during 2009 and house values declined--more so in some regions of the country than others--the tax base for state and local governments, as well as the federal government declined at the same time that the demand for services increased. According to data gathered by the ICMA, 90 percent of local governments reported budgetary shortfalls for fiscal 2010. Interest on investments fell by 28 percent, and revenues from sales taxes, income taxes, and property taxes all fell by 10 percent. As a result, many county and local governments cut services to focus resources on the basic necessities such as policing and fire protection. The most popular ways to address budgetary shortfalls were to leave vacant positions unfilled, defer capital projects, and implement targeted spending cuts. As the country slowly emerged from the recession toward the end of 2009, the question remained whether executives would work to reinstate additional services and projects or keep their departments trimmed and lean in the coming years.


Although very few executive positions are available at the state or federal level, numerous opportunities to serve in executive positions exist within local governments. Many officials on the local level, such as mayors, do not hold full-time, year-round positions. They often have jobs, are retired, or have household responsibilities. Executives on the local, state, and federal level reach their positions in a number of ways. Many are attorneys, although public figures from all walks of life may be able to secure enough votes to capture an office.

City and county managers who are appointed by councils or commissions typically have a more definite career path than elected officials. Although they come from a variety of backgrounds, many have a master's degree in public administration or business. Managers of larger jurisdictions are expected to exhibit expertise in financial, administrative, and personnel matters associated with public management. Because they often are appointed by revolving administrations, city and county managers also need keen political and interpersonal skills that will help to keep them employed. Job growth opportunities are very limited. Many existing local and municipal offices are expected to try to reduce expenses and personnel. Opportunities are greatest in regions with growing populations, particularly in the Southwest. In addition, some communities have been hiring city managers for the first time in an effort to boost the efficiency of their government.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 30,100 chief executives at the federal, state, and local government level in 2008--accounting for just one-third of 1 percent of the total government workforce. The mean annual salary for a top executive was $99,280. According to PayScale.com, in 2009, the median salary for a city manager ranged from as little as $47,000 per year to nearly $149,000 a year, depending on the size of the community and the years of experience. The average governor's salary in 2007 was $124,398. However, the salaries range widely. California is technically the highest paying state with a salary of $206,500, but Governor Schwarzenegger does not accept a paycheck. Other high-paying states included New York ($179,000), Michigan ($177,000), and New Jersey and Virginia (both $175,000). Maine is the lowest paying state with a gubernatorial salary of $70,000, followed by Arkansas ($80,848) and Tennessee ($85,000; Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen does not accept a paycheck).

© COPYRIGHT 2018 The Gale Group, Inc. This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan. All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group. For permission to reuse this article, contact the Copyright Clearance Center.

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