The General Secretariat is responsible for planning parliamentary sessions and scheduling the issues to be dealt with, as well as all questions regarding organisation and procedures; he prepares office and Council meetings as well as the sessions of the United Federal Assembly (both chambers together). The Parliamentary Services report to the Secretary General of the Federal Assembly, Christoph Lanz, who runs the Services together with his deputy, Philippe Schwab, the heads of section and the head of the Information and Communication Service.
The Central Secretariat plays an important role not only vis-à-vis the committees and the 246 members of parliament but also for the press and the public: it draws up summaries of matters concerning amendments proposed by the Federal Council, majority groups and minority groups, as well as taking care of technical preparations for the documents that make up the “raw material” of parliament’s work. Moreover, it keeps a register of and manages the matters dealt with by the two chambers and personal data about members of parliament.
The Information and Communication Service is responsible for relations with the media and the public. The Information Service organises and coordinates information on the work of parliament and its committees. It advises and provides support for members of parliament, parliamentary bodies and the Directorate on information and media issues and fosters contacts with parliamentary correspondents and the media in general.
The Public Relations Service produces publications about parliament, organises events in the parliament building, arranges visits and runs the Political Forum of the Confederation in the old Prison Tower in collaboration with the Federal Chancellery.
The Internet Service maintains the parliament website (www.parliament.ch) in four languages (German, French, Italian and English). It offers up to date information on the way parliament works, its committees, individual items of business and on members of parliament. During parliamentary sessions it ensures the (live) transmission of debates (streaming). The offering is rounded off with comprehensive dossiers on important political issues and elements of civic education (CiviCampus; available in German, French, Italian and Romansh).
The Legal Affairs Service provides information and gives advice on questions of parliamentary law. In particular it advises the Speakers, the offices, the committees and the Directorate about the application of parliamentary law.
The Secretariat of the Supervisory Committees and Delegations deals with the work of the Finance Committees and the Control Committees of both Councils, which supervise the activities of the government and the federal administration. As for the Supervisory Delegation of the NRLA, this is the supreme parliamentary supervisory body for finance and the Alpine transit project, while the Parliamentary Control of the Administration (PCA) is the Federal Assembly’s chief organ for monitoring the way in which the federal administration works.
The Scientific Services
The Committees Service includes the secretariats of the various legislative committees. Since the 246 members of parliament cannot all study each bill in detail – especially in view of the fact that the number and complexity of the issues dealt with in parliament is steadily increasing – all matters are systematically allotted to one of the committees, each of which has its own secretariat. The secretariats are responsible in particular for planning and preparing the committees’ work, providing technical, organisational and administrative assistance, and advising them and their chairs on all questions concerning parliament, notably procedures and responsibilities.
The Official Gazette includes all the debates held in the parliament building. While etymologically the word “parliament” comes from the Latin “parlare”, the well known saying “verba volent, scripta manent” (words fade, writing remains) is a reminder of the fact that written records are indispensable. In any case, all parliaments have a system for transcribing the spoken word. That used by the Swiss Parliamentary Services involving the Official Gazette is one of the most modern in the world and has in fact won several awards. It enables entire parliamentary debates to be posted on the internet almost in real time.
The Documentation Service is responsible for supplying members of parliament with the documentation they require. From A for Army XXI to H for hospital funding, U for unemployment insurance and Z for zero-tolerance, it provides all the information needed by the federal Councils for the decisions they take, as well as by members of parliament for their speeches.
International Relations and Languages
The International Relations Service comprises in particular the secretariat of the Foreign Affairs Committees. Its tasks include preparing foreign trips for Speakers and for delegations appointed by the offices as part of bilateral exchanges, carrying out secretarial work for the delegations to international parliamentary assemblies and maintaining relations with foreign parliaments. It also makes all the necessary arrangements for visits to Switzerland by foreign Speakers and parliamentary delegations. In addition, it is responsible for questions of protocol (reception of foreign dignitaries and ambassadors).
The Language Service translates documents, in particular reports drawn up by committees and delegations, intended for parliament or for the Parliamentary Services.
The Italian Language Secretariat draws up and publishes documents in Italian concerning all specialised fields, as well as carrying out secretarial work in Italian.
The Simultaneous Translation Service provides interpreters for debates held in the National Council and the United Federal Assembly for the three official languages (German, French and Italian).
Resources, Security and Logistics
The task of the Human Resources Service is to set out staff policy and ensure that it is implemented. In this connection, it plans all matters pertaining to human resources, manages the employees and plays a central role in all issues connected with organisational development. Finally, it assists and advises the Directorate and senior managers on the question of further training and personal improvement of the staff.
The Finance and Travel Service is responsible for preparing and managing the budget of the two chambers, keeping the accounts and management control. In addition, it deals with the remuneration of members of parliament as well as questions concerning their pensions. Finally, it organises official trips for members of parliament and staff of the Parliamentary Services.
The Security and Infrastructure Service draws up and puts into practice the Parliamentary Services’ security policy. At the same time it is responsible for all questions concerning the parliament building and the management of the premises used by the Federal Assembly and its various organs.
The IT and New Technologies Services installs, repairs and services all the IT equipment used by the Parliamentary Services and the secretariats of parliamentary groups. It also supplies personal IT equipment for each member of parliament.
The Operations and Ushers Unit takes care of reservations for conference rooms for Councils, committees and parliamentary groups; in addition it photocopies, distributes and dispatches working documents and other printed matter to the Councils, the committees and members of parliament. It should also be noted that this Unit remains at the disposal of members throughout the sessions. And last but not least, it provides an escort for the Speakers during public demonstrations.
The IT Integration and Project Management Cell is responsible for carrying out projects relating to infrastructure, security, information technology, document management and the e-parl system, which is used for making available all the documents required by members of the two Councils through the internet.