An executive agency is a part of a government department that is treated as managerially and budgetarily separate, to carry out some part of the executive functions of the United Kingdom government, Scottish Government, Welsh Government or Northern Ireland Executive. Executive agencies are "machinery of government" devices distinct both from non-ministerial government departments and non-departmental public bodies (or "quangos"), each of which enjoy legal and constitutional separation from ministerial control. The model has been applied in several other countries.
Agencies include well-known organisations such as His Majesty's Prison Service and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency. The annual budget for each agency, allocated by HM Treasury, ranges from a few million pounds for the smallest agencies to £700m for the Court Service. Virtually all government departments have at least one agency.
The initial success or otherwise of executive agencies was examined in the Sir Angus Fraser's Fraser Report of 1991. Its main goal was to identify what good practices had emerged from the new model and spread them to other agencies and departments. The report also recommended further powers be devolved from ministers to chief executives.
A series of reports and white papers examining governmental delivery were published throughout the 1990s, under both Conservative and Labour governments. During these the agency model became the standard model for delivering public services in the United Kingdom. By 1997, 76% of civil servants were employed by an agency. The new Labour government in its first such report – the 1998 Next Steps Report – endorsed the model introduced by its predecessor. A later review (in 2002, linked below) made two central conclusions (their emphasis):
"The agency model has been a success. Since 1988 agencies have transformed the landscape of government and the responsive and effectiveness of services delivered by Government."
Some agencies have, however, become disconnected from their departments ... The gulf between policy and delivery is considered by most to have widened."
The latter point is usually made more forcefully by critics of the government,[who?] describing agencies as "unaccountable quangos".
Several other countries have an executive agency model.
In the United States, the Clinton administration imported the model under the name "performance-based organizations."
In Canada, executive agencies were adopted on a limited basis under the name "special operating agencies." One example is the Translation Bureau under Public Services and Procurement Canada.
Executive agencies were also established in Australia, Jamaica, Japan and Tanzania.