What Is the Difference Between Staff and Line Agencies?

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Line agencies, whether in public administration, the military or various businesses, are those departments within an organization which focus on the primary function and work of the organization, whose staff agencies are those departments which provide support to the line agencies. In business, production, sales and marketing are the key line agencies or departments. Staff agencies can include administrative support, human resources and legal departments.

The duties of staff agencies typically include keeping executives in line department positions up to date, providing them with all the information and material needed to make key decisions, handling regulatory compliance issues, tracking revenue and expenses, providing logistics support, procuring equipment and recruiting new hires. Staff agencies also include many people with specific technical expertise. Workers in a line department typically have greater authority than staff workers, who usually are only able to advise and cannot make independent decisions.

When organizations or businesses begin, they usually consist only of line positions, with everyone involved with production and sales. As organizations grow, they tend to add staff positions. In a standard table of organization for a business or organization, the line functions are typically designated by vertical lines starting with the head of the organization, while the staff functions are more often marked with horizontal lines spinning off from line positions.