Each member of the Federal Council heads a department

Federal councillors have a dual function. They are members of the government and thus share responsibility for the activities of government. And they also head a department and represent its affairs and concerns in the Federal Council. 

Federal Councillor Viola Amherd – accompanied by various staff members – walks to a media conference in June 2021. (KEYSTONE)

The Federal Council heads the Federal Administration, an organisation with around 38,000 members of staff. The members of the Federal Council bear joint overall responsibility for functions of government. They ensure through their constant and systematic oversight that the departments and offices carry out their tasks according to the legal requirements.

As far as federal finances are concerned, the Federal Council is supported by the Federal Audit Office. This is an independent body, bound only by the Constitution and the law.  

Seven departments and one Chancellery

The Federal Administration is organised into seven departments. Each department is headed by one of the federal councillors. The Federal Council also appoints their deputies. In addition, there is the Federal Chancellery, the administrative office of the Federal Council.

The aims, fields of activity and structure, along with the principles governing the activities of the departments and the Federal Chancellery are regulated in organisational ordinances. These are issued by the Federal Council.

Unlimited right to issue directives and right of scrutiny

The heads of department are politically responsible for running their departments. To this end, they have virtually unlimited rights to issue directives, scrutinise activities and take measures.

Appointment of top civil servants

The Federal Council also exercises its overall responsibility for the Federal Administration by appointing the directors of the various offices. This is not a task for the individual heads of department. State Secretaries, the director of the Defence Procurement Agency, the Federal Council spokesperson, the head of the Audit Office and other senior civil servants are appointed by the Federal Council.

Bound by the law and the interests of the common good

The Federal Council and federal employees must abide by certain general principles when carrying out their work. These principles, set out in the Government and Administration Organisation Act, are as follows:

  • The Federal Council and the Federal Administration act in accordance with the Constitution and the law.
  • They act at all times in the interests of the common good, uphold the rights of citizens and the responsibilities of the cantons and foster cooperation between the Confederation and the cantons.
  • They act in accordance with the principles of expediency and economy.

Last modification 12.06.2023

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