The Parliamentary Services support council members in fulfilling their duties. In terms of the separation of powers, they are answerable to Parliament and operate independently of the Federal Council and the Federal Administration.
The start of a new term of office for a newly elected member of the Federal Assembly is comparable with starting a new job: the new member has a host of questions, is inundated with information, is expected to hit the ground running, but first has to become acquainted with how Parliament works. The Parliamentary Services provide advice and assistance to the new members of parliament. At the start of a new legislature period, the Parliamentary Services with its 304 staff (222 full-time equivalents) have a great deal to do.
Diverse range of services
When Parliament is in session, all the various units of the Parliamentary Services are kept busy, in public and behind the scenes. For example, debates are transcribed and published in the Official Bulletin while the session is still in progress, so that individual statements and the results of the votes can be read online at www.parlament.ch within an hour.
Things are slightly calmer in between sessions, but even then there are often committee meetings. The preparations for these are usually made by the relevant committee secretariats with practical support provided by the team of ushers. Members are given all the necessary documentation so they can familiarise themselves with the varied subject matter, such as reports from federal offices, articles from the press or specialist literature and the minutes of earlier meetings. Council members can also request personalised documentation packs and advice to gain a more in-depth understanding of an issue.
The Parliamentary Services also draft press releases, arrange press conferences, and organise visits by Swiss delegations abroad and by foreign delegations to Bern.
Information online and in all official languages
A team of IT staff and webspecialists is responsible for running and maintaining the entire IT infrastructure for the Parliamentary Services and the secretariats of the parliamentary groups. The Parliament website also has to be kept up to date so that the public can find out about parliamentary business, council members and events. Debates are streamed live online during the sessions. Council members speak before Parliament and in the committees in their own language. During sessions in the National Council, interpreters provide simultaneous translation of statements in the three official languages, German, French and Italian. Most documents are also translated.
The public can follow what their representatives are doing not only through the media and online, but also in person from the gallery. Council members receive individual visitors or groups at the Parliament Building and visitors can also find out more about the building and proceedings by taking a guided tour.
A large number of people from different walks of life pass through the doors of the Federal Palace: parliamentarians, representatives of different interest groups and the media, civil servants and visitors. For an open building such as this, a certain number of security measures and staff have to be in place. The Federal Palace also has to be maintained and kept clean. The activities that take centre stage would not be possible without all the work done behind the scenes: things would soon grind to a halt if the wastepaper baskets were never emptied, if the heating did not work in winter or if there was nowhere to get a coffee…