The administration consists of seven federal departments and the Federal Chancellery. The departments are roughly equivalent to the ministries of other states, but their scope is generally broader. Each department consists of several federal offices, which are headed by a director, and of other agencies. The much smaller Federal Chancellery, headed by the Federal Chancellor, operates as an eighth department in most respects.
The administration in its entirety is directed by the Swiss Federal Council, and the Federal Council and the administration are subject to parliamentary oversight by the Federal Assembly. Each member of the Federal Council is also, in his or her individual capacity, the head of one of the seven departments. The Federal Council has the sole authority to decide on the size and composition of the departments, and to make all executive decisions that are not delegated by law to an individual department, or to the Chancellery. The Council also decides which department its members are appointed to lead, although it is customary that Councillors choose their preferred department in order of seniority.
The absence of hierarchic leadership within the Council has caused the departments to acquire a very considerable autonomy, to the extent that the federal executive has been characterised as "seven co-existing departmental governments."
From 1954 to 1990, roughly two percent of Switzerland's resident population were federal employees. This percentage has since declined due to army cutbacks and the partial privatisation of federal enterprises such as PTT (now Swisscom and Swiss Post). As of 2008, the Confederation employed some 102,000 people, all but 32,000 of which were working for federal enterprises such as the Post and the Swiss Federal Railways.
After the founding of the Swiss federal state in 1848, the Federal Council and its handful of officials took up residence in the Erlacherhof in Berne. The entire administrative staff consisted of 80 persons in 1849, while the postal service had 2,591 officials and the customs service 409. The first dedicated administrative building, now the western wing of the Bundeshaus, was completed in 1857.
The number of departments and Federal Councillors has been constitutionally fixed at seven since 1848. The number of the departments' subordinate entities, which are constituted by statute - generally as "federal offices" after the 1910s - has grown substantially in step with the expanding role of the state in the 20th century, even though some have been merged or abolished.
A 1964 government reform made the Federal Chancellery into the general staff unit of the Federal Council, and created General Secretariats as departmental staff units. A 1978 statute granted the title of secretary of state to the holders of two (later three) directoral posts whose functions require independent interaction with foreign authorities. Since the 1990s, New Public Management models have been experimentally introduced; twelve offices are now run with autonomous budgets.
Governmental and administrative offices are located in the east and west wings of the Federal Palace of Switzerland, to either side of the central Parliament Building.
The seat of the federal authorities, including almost all of the administration, is Berne. The departments and offices are located in the east and west wings of the Bundeshaus and in numerous buildings in or close to the city center. In the 1990s, some offices were moved to other parts of the country, in part to aid economic development of these regions. Also, some federal authorities have field offices in other cities.
Federal Social Insurance Office (FSIO): Regulates the Swiss social insurance and system, including old age and survivors' insurance, invalidity insurance, supplementary benefits, occupational pension funds, income compensation for people on national service and for women on maternity leave as well as family allowances in the agricultural sector.
General Secretariat, including the Federal Strategy Unit for IT (FSUIT).
Federal Finance Administration (FFA): Responsible for the budget, financial planning, financial policy, the federal treasury and financial equalisation between the Confederation and the cantons. Operates the federal mint.
Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA): Regulates banks, insurances, securities dealers, investment funds and stock exchanges, as well as the disclosure of shareholding interests, public takeover bids and mortgage lenders.
Federal Pension Fund (PUBLICA): Provides insurance coverage to employees of the federal administration, the other branches of the federal government and associated organisations.
Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research
Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN): Responsible for matters of the environment, including the protection of plants and animals and the protection against noise, air pollution or natural hazards.
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