In army, there are two kinds of units; one, line unit and the other, staff unit. Line officers command the troops in the battlefield. They actually fight war. But the troops in the field are to be supplied with food, medicine, arms and ammunition, etc. These functions are performed by the staff units of the army. These do not fight in the war, but help the fighters to achieve the main purpose for which they are created.
Similarly, the chief executive in an organization has to perform various functions and also has to face a number of problems of different magnitudes. For this purpose, he must have full information about the problems which may vary from technical advice to expert opinion in different fields so as to take a right decision. In this way, having expert knowledge becomes all the more important. For this purpose, the chief executive appoints staff officers for his help. In complicated and large organizations, there exist special units of staff officers to provide expert opinion in order to facilitate the decision-making. Therefore, staff agency is an advisory organ and it plans, advises and assists.
Line agencies are concerned with the provision of services in a particular field. From top to down, a single-line authority runs downwards. They actually help accomplish the primary objectives of the organization. In our context, the functions of line agencies are performed by the field organizations and they receive support from staff agencies.
Staff agencies give advice to the executive. They have no responsibility for the actual performance of the duties as line agencies are created for it. The staff is a kind of thinking, planning and advisory body. Central advisory boards/bodies are staff agencies.
Line agencies exist in order to accomplish the purpose for which they are created. Staff agencies are to assist the line agencies and the latter welds authority or command over the former. Staff agencies only control and assist while line agencies are to run the services. Staff agencies assist and advise line agencies which come in direct contact with the people while staff agencies remain behind the curtain. Line agencies issue orders down the line. However, staff agencies do not have powers to issue such orders.
In Pakistan, the staff agencies aid and advise chief executive in taking decisions by providing in-depth analyses of the information they gather. Thus, they are “eyes and ears or filter and funnel” to chief executive. They can be of two kinds, general staff who help the chief executive in his administrative work generally by advice and collection of information, and technical staff who advise the chief executive in technical matters. Cabinet secretariat, cabinet committees, PMO are staff agencies.
The line agencies are those which perform the primary functions of the government, deal directly with the people and implement government programmes directly. Line agencies are executive in a nature and works under direct control, direction and supervision of the chief executive. Line agencies can be of three kinds, departmental, corporations and boards and commissions.