Submitted by legal on February 3, 2009

What’s the difference between “commission” and “committee”

I was challenged by a colleague of mine with the subject question to me the other day.

I turned to several resources but failed to find a satisfactory and convincing answer and PainIntheEnglish is my last hope.

Can anybody help me?

Thanks a lot!

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A committee is a group of people who meet and deliberate according to fixed rules in order to make a decision or produce a document as a group. A commission is a group of people who are entrusted (that is the etymology) by a government to carry out a task. Sometimes the task is a specific one (like ascertaining a particular fact or resolving a particular problem) and sometimes the task is more long-term (like the SEC, that is, Securities and Exchange Commission). A commission is usually distinct from other kinds of agency in two ways: it has no single, permanent administrator, and it has no independent or constitutional authority of its own—it operates under the authority of another part of the government. Of course, a commission can be a committee (like the 9/11 Commission), but very few committees are commissions, and some commissions are not committees.

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Paul, thanks for the answer; you saved me a trip to onelook.com to refresh my memory. ;)

I just discovered this site. Great resource, thank you.

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Thanks a lot, Paul, for your detailed explanation and patience.

Sorry, Rudolph, I am not a native English speaker and the two words have quite similar translations in my native tongue. That's why although I have full access to Internet and I have dictionaries yet I am still puzzled by the two words. Sometimes, the differences between two words that are distinct to native speakers are Greek for those who study the language. Sorry, if I have trouble or angered you in whatever sense. I didn't mean that....

Thank you Elizabeth for that great site!

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The defining difference is that a committee is part of a larger organization. A commission is an independent group. E.g., The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation was formed by the Senate as a sub-group of the Senate. By comparison, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) is an independent agency of the government.

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Legal, I think of the difference this way. A committee could be self appointed in an organization. Any citizen's group in a neighborhood can form a committee. A commission is more of an organization that is created by a higher authority, like a king in days of yore.

I'm not sure you'd want to try to keep this kind of thing straight in your head though. You'd run into too many confusing situations, where a committee was appointed by some higher authority, for example. I, like other native English speakers, such as Elizabeth, I imagine, normally have to check a reference on this sort of thing. And while government agencies probably make the right distinctions in this kind of nomenclature, the rest of us might overuse the word committee. Although, come to think of it, I would not refer to a group as a commission unless I knew it was identified as such.

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Oh, thank you. Your help and kindness is truly appreciated. I will read your explanations carefully and give myself some time to chew them over. John, your suggestion to turn to a reference is golden and that seems a must and the best I effort I can and shall make when I have to select the right word in my writing. Thanks again!!

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The committee decides your commission.

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A commission is a group of people appointed either by the law, a corporation or any other higher authority to enforce established procedures or discuss specific issues. A committe, on the other hand, can be formed by anyone to address any issue of their choice.

(High school students can have a committee to support their favorite candidate for Prom Queen.)

Hope it helped!

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I realize some might not have understood Rudolph completely. Rudolph sells Kirby vacuums, and every time he does so he gets a 2% commission. So he works really, really hard, but also gets very stressed very easily because nobody likes him. So he thought commission could only mean one thing. However, words (as some of us know, but apparently not everybody) COULD HAVE MORE THAN ONE MEANING! People who speak more than one language, like @Legal for example, tend to have a richer vocabulary. Now you know Rudolph, my brother.

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A commission has powers delegated from above to it and is given a task to perform (e.g.: a procurement commission, the Securities & Exchange Commission). Its terms of reference are relatively specific, even though these may be very broad (e.g. European Commission) or very narrow (a company's IT procurement commission). Representativeness is not a relevant criterion for a commission.

A committee is a more horizontal grouping of appointees for co-decision making. (Project steering committee, monitoring committee, special parliamentary committee, village fair prize committee, strike committee). The emphasis is more "how are we going to do this?". Committees operate according to formalised rules of procedure. If you are unsure whether to use committee or commission, use committee.

A panel has no powers, and will simply advise a decision-making body. It is usually composed of experts who may be external to the organisation of the decision-making body. Members should be chosen on the basis of their expertise. Representativeness is not a relevant criterion.

A working group is conceptually similar to a committee, yet more informal, temporary and ad hoc. Its members are the people actually working on the thing that is the subject of its decision-making. The decision-making is more detailed (e.g. there is a problem with xyz design component, so let's delay production of abc until ...).

A board is supreme, i.e. it is not subordinate, i.e. it does not receive instructions, but instructs the executive to do things. (e.g. board of directors in a company, board of trustees, board of governors)

A council is a body of members who are representative of a larger group (typically an electorate). Its decision-making and powers are not relevant criteria. The criterion is solely that it is representative.

A roundtable exists solely to exchange information through question, answer and discussion among its members. Attendees may be heads of government, journalists, company heads, high-ranking officials. While heads of government may reach agreement around a roundtable, this decision-making is not the relevant criterion for calling the meeting a roundtable. Roundtables are often not recurrent.

A group (e.g. a G7 meeting, group of wise men = monetary policy experts) is used when there is the need to emphasise equality between members. Its members are independent and not subordinate to any decision the group. The group is not a body having any authority. Agreements may be made, but the emphasis is more on discussion.

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nice detailed explanation by anglopreklad..keep it up.

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committee is legalised but commission is non legalised it is officially appointed..let me say a natural disaster may happen a commission could be set up by the government to look into it which inturn provide report to govt.it's the wish of the govt...while a committee on other hand for eg,govt has to establish estimates committee legally for every year to look into the estimates of govt revenues and expenditure...

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A committee is a group of individuals who rarely reach consensus and when they do the result is a camel.
A commission can be a number of things, one of which is a committee. Usually that type of commission is appointed by a government and is paid for by the taxpayer. But they sill come up with camels.

From Chambers:
commission noun 1 a a formal or official request to someone to perform a task or duty; b the authority to perform such a task or duty; c the task or duty performed. 2 a a military rank above the level of officer; b the document conferring this rank. 3 an order for a piece of work, especially a work of art. 4 a board or committee entrusted with a particular task • the equal rights commission. 5 a fee or percentage given to an agent for arranging a sale, etc. 6 the act of committing (eg a crime). verb (commissioned, commissioning) 1 to give a commission or authority to someone. 2 to grant a military rank above a certain level to someone. 3 to request someone to do something. 4 to place an order for something, eg a work of art, etc. 5 to prepare (a ship) for active service. in or out of commission in or not in use or working condition.
ETYMOLOGY: 14c: French, from Latin commissio, from committere to commit.

committee noun (committees) 1 a group of people selected by and from a larger body, eg a club, to undertake certain duties on its behalf. 2 a body specially appointed to undertake an investigation, enquiry, etc.

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Thanks everybody for the explanations.

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thank you very much for giving this valuable information.

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