The General Secretariat is the permanent and central organ of the OAS, executing programs and policies decided upon by the General Assembly and the two councils. Directed by the Secretary General, it occupies a key position within the inter-American system and serves the entire organization and all member states. The Secretary General and the Assistant Secretary General are elected by the General Assembly for 5-year terms. They can be reelected once and cannot be succeeded by a person of the same nationality.

The staff of the General Secretariat is composed of personnel chosen mainly from the member states, with consideration given to geographic representation. Staff members are considered international civil servants. The OAS Secretariat also maintains a small office in many member states.

The General Assembly is the supreme organ of the OAS. It holds a regular session each year, either in one of the member states or at headquarters in Washington, DC. In special circumstances, and with the approval of two-thirds of the member states, the Permanent Council can convoke a special session of the General Assembly. Delegations are usually headed by foreign ministers. In addition to deliberating on current issues, the General Assembly approves the program-budget; sets the bases for fixing member-state quota assessments; establishes measures for coordinating the activities of the organs, agencies, and entities of the OAS; and determines the general standards that govern the operation of the General Secretariat. General Assembly decisions usually take the form of resolutions, which must be approved by a majority of all members (two-thirds for agenda, budget, and certain other questions).

The United States hosted the XXXV Regular Session of the OAS General Assembly in Fort Lauderdale Florida, in 2005, under the theme “Delivering the Benefits of Democracy.”

A Meeting of Consultation of Foreign Ministers can be called by any member state, either “to consider problems of an urgent nature and of common interest to the American States” (as stated in the OAS Charter) or to serve as an organ of consultation in cases of armed attack or other threats to international peace and security (per the Rio Treaty). In either case, the request must be directed to the Permanent Council of the OAS, which decides by absolute majority vote if the meeting is to be called. In cases between member states, the affected parties are excluded from voting. Should an armed attack take place within the territory of an American state or within the Western Hemisphere security zone defined by the Rio Treaty, a meeting of consultation is held without delay. Until the ministers of foreign affairs can assemble, the Permanent Council is empowered to act as a provisional organ of consultation and make decisions.

The Permanent Council, composed of ambassadors representing each member state, meets throughout the year in Washington, DC. The council, its standing committees, and special working groups conduct the day-to-day business of the OAS, which involves implementing mandates from the General Assemblies, designing and assessing activities to promote democracy and strengthen human rights, considering requests from members, debating and approving resolutions on current issues, and dealing with reports from subsidiary organs.

In an emergency, a special session of the council can be called immediately by its chairman or at the request of any member. The chair rotates every three months, in alphabetical order. Unlike the U.N., Security Council, no member can exercise a veto in the Permanent Council. OAS members place great importance on obtaining consensus before decisions are made. The Permanent Council also serves provisionally as the organ of consultation (for meetings of foreign ministers) and every year acts as the preparatory committee for the General Assembly.