executive branch

[ ig-zek-yuh-tiv branch ]
/ ɪgˈzɛk yə tɪv ˌbræntʃ /
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the branch of government charged with the execution and enforcement of laws and policies and the administration of public affairs; the executive.
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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What is the executive branch?

The executive branch is the branch of government responsible for carrying out and enforcing laws.

In the United States, the federal and state governments are divided into three parts—the legislative branch, the executive branch, and the judicial branch. For the federal government, the branches are established by the Constitution of the United States. At the state level, the branches are established by state constitutions.

While the legislative branch creates laws at both the federal and state level, the executive branch ensures they are properly carried out. Federally, this is done through the many agencies that oversee a huge number of activities, such as collecting taxes and distributing welfare benefits. Due to the large number of laws and large size of the United States, the executive branch is by far the biggest of the three, employing millions of people.

As part of the system of checks and balances, the executive branch has some powers it can use to check the power of the other two branches. For example, the executive branch nominates federal judges (the judicial branch) and has the power to veto laws passed by Congress (the legislative branch).

The people that make up the executive branch at the federal level include the president of the United States, who is head of the U.S. government as a whole and the commander-in-chief of the United States military. Due to how important and difficult their job is, the president has a large number of powers and has many departments serving under them. Also included in the executive branch are the vice president, the president’s Cabinet, all of the employees of the numerous federal agencies responsible for the day-to-day management of public affairs (such as the National Park Service and US Postal Service), federal law enforcement officers, and all members of the United States military.

At the state level, the executive branch is led by the governor and their staff. Beyond this, the states are free to organize their executive branches however they wish.

Why is executive branch important?

In the United States, the executive branch was established by Article II, Section I of the Constitution, which was written in 1787 and ratified in 1788. While the Constitution doesn’t use the exact term of executive branch, this term has long been used to refer to the portion of government that includes the president.

Because it has so many responsibilities, the executive branch is the one you are most likely to come in contact with on a regular basis. If you mail a letter, pay taxes, visit a national park, or get a passport, you are directly interacting with the executive branch.

The executive branch also indirectly affects your life in ways you may not even know about. Departments that fall under the executive branch are responsible for things like setting the rules for what is allowed on TV, controlling the amount of pollution, and overseeing the regulation of foods and medicines.

Did you know ... ?

To put the huge size of the executive branch into perspective, consider that the 2020 budget of the entire legislative branch was nearly $4 billion. In 2020, the budget of just the Department of Education (only one of the 15 executive departments) was over $66 billion!

What are real-life examples of executive branch?

This photograph shows the White House, the building in which the president performs most of their daily duties as the head of the executive branch.


Most Americans know about the executive branch and will frequently criticize members of it, especially the president.

Quiz yourself!

True or False?

In the United States, the head of the executive branch is the president.

How to use executive branch in a sentence

Cultural definitions for executive branch

executive branch

The branch of federal and state government that is broadly responsible for implementing, supporting, and enforcing the laws made by the legislative branch and interpreted by the judicial branch. At the state level, the executive includes governors and their staffs. At the federal level, the executive includes the president, the vice president, staffs of appointed advisers (including the cabinet), and a variety of departments and agencies, such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Postal Service (see postmaster general). The executive branch also proposes a great deal of legislation to Congress and appoints federal judges, including justices of the Supreme Court. Although the executive branch guides the nation's domestic and foreign policies, the system of checks and balances works to limit its power.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.