The President's Cabinet

After a President comes into office, you often hear about their appointments to the Cabinet and the debate it causes amongst political parties. But what actually is a Cabinet? 

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    To simplify it, let's think of a clique in your school that clearly has one prominent leader. This main leader selects who gets to be part of the clique. However, once in the clique, the members may have their own opinions and voice them, but it is entirely up to the leader's discretion on whether or not they use their advice. Cabinets are similar in that way, where the prominent leader is the President and the cabinet members are the clique members. However, the President's Cabinet is important because each of the clique members has their own job leading various departments!

    This article aims to give you a deeper understanding of the Cabinet and its function within the US government.

    Figure 1 President's Cabinet President Barack Obama meeting with his Cabinet StudySmarterFigure 1. President Barack Obama meeting with his Cabinet, Pete Souza, Wikimedia Commons

    The President's Cabinet Definition

    The President's cabinet is a group, including the vice president and the heads of 15 different executive departments, who serve an advisory role to the President of the United States and manage the departments in the executive branch of government. The point of the cabinet is to have a group of people knowledgeable in different areas to advise the President on policies and the direction the administration should take. The cabinet serves at the pleasure of the President, meaning that the President can fire them whenever he wants.

    FUN FACT!

    The word "Cabinet" is nowhere to be found in the Constitution. Founders instead used the word: "head of the department."

    President's Cabinet Positions

    There are currently 15 Cabinet positions within the executive branch of the US government. The following list is written in the order of seniority of the office - Presidential succession also follows this order!

    1. Secretary of State
      • The State Department is responsible for foreign affairs and anything involving international relations, such as consulates and embassies.
    2. Secretary of the Treasury
      • The Department of Treasury is responsible for the federal government's revenue, taxation, and accounting. The IRS is housed within the Department of Treasury.
    3. Secretary of Defense
      • The Department of Defense is the largest department responsible for anything related to national security and the armed forces.
    4. Attorney General
      • The Attorney General is responsible for the Department of Justice (DOJ), which enforces federal laws and prosecutes those who have committed federal crimes. The DEA and FBI reside within the DOJ.
    5. Secretary of the Interior
      • The Department of the Interior is responsible for federal land and domestic territorial affairs. The National Park Service and US Fish and Wildlife Service are some agencies within the department.
    6. Secretary of Agriculture
      • The Department of Agriculture is responsible for farming, food, and rural economic development. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is housed within this department.
    7. Secretary of Commerce
      • The Department of Commerce oversees anything having to do with commerce. Some of the agencies housed within it are the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Weather Service.
    8. Secretary of Labor
      • The Department of Labor is in charge of Labor policies and practices. It includes agencies like the Bureau of Labor Statists and the Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
    9. Secretary of Health and Human Services
      • The Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for anything having to do with public health and family services. Some of the agencies housed within it are the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
    10. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
      • The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is in charge of anything related to housing and mortgage policy. The Federal Housing Administration is housed within HUD.
    11. Secretary of Transportation
      • The Department of Transportation (DOT/USDOT) oversees all federal transportation systems, including federal interstates, and is involved in creating, maintaining, and ensuring the safety of all transportation systems. Some agencies housed within DOT are the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
    12. Secretary of Energy
      • The Department of Energy is in charge of anything having to do with energy, from its cost to regulating utilities.
    13. Secretary of Education
      • The Department of Education is in charge of federal policy regarding public education and federal loans and grants for schools.
    14. Secretary of Veteran Affairs
      • The Department of Veteran Affairs is in charge of anything having to do with veterans. Some of the agencies within it are the Veterans Health Administration and the Veterans Benefits Administration.
    15. Secretary of Homeland Security
      • The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) deals with terrorism, immigration, cybersecurity, and disaster prevention. Some agencies housed within DHS are Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

    Additionally, the President can add more members to the cabinet as they see fit, including, but not limited to, the chief of staff, UN ambassador, and head of the office management and budget. While they may not manage their own department, the President grants them cabinet-like status.

    FUN FACT!

    President George Washington established the first presidential cabinet that just included the Department of State, Treasury, and War.

    Figure 2 President's Cabinet President Biden holding a Cabinet meeting during Coronavirus Pandemic StudySmarterFigure 2. President Biden holding a Cabinet meeting during Coronavirus Pandemic, Adam Shultz, Wikimedia Commons

    President's Cabinet Members

    Article 2 of the Constitution establishes that the president may require advisement from the heads of executive departments. Currently, the 15 heads of department that are the President's cabinet members are appointed by the President; however, they must be approved by the Senate in special hearings. While they cannot be members of Congress and aren't directed by Congress, they have to testify before congressional committees and have their budget approved by Congress.

    Members, therefore, must try to navigate between serving at the pleasure of the President (who hired them), appeasing Congress (which controls their budget and legal authority), and advocating for their department (listening to the people that their department is meant to serve).

    FUN FACT! Recently, Presidents have been having difficulties filling Cabinet positions because many highly-qualified applicants refuse to put themselves and their families through the highly polarizing Senate confirmation hearings.

    Figure 3 President's Cabinet Empty Cabinet Room StudySmarterFigure 3. Empty Cabinet Room, USGov, Wikimedia Commons

    President's Cabinet Roles

    The President's cabinet roles depend exclusively upon the President. Some presidents actually held cabinet meetings often and relied on their advice, like President Eisenhower. In contrast, others rarely held cabinet meetings and looked to "kitchen cabinets" or other institutions such as the Council of Economic Advisors or the National Security Council for advice like President John F. Kennedy and George W. Bush.

    Kitchen cabinet: a cabinet that comprises the President's loyal friends or associates who advise the President. They are often considered "unofficial" advisors.

    The President's cabinet, also, under the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, has been given the ability to be able to declare that the current President is unable to fulfill his duties leading to the removal of the President from office, making the vice president the temporary President.

    However, the cabinet's political role is the most crucial. Presidents have used cabinet positions throughout the years to gain political leverage; they will appoint certain people to thank them for their support, appease the opposing party, build up their political reputation, or look more inclusive. Recently, Presidents have appointed minorities into the Cabinet. As a result, some Presidents tend to question the loyalty of their Cabinet members and tend not to rely on them.

    Although somewhat modeled after the British Cabinet, the US cabinet has no legislative power. Its role is purely advisory and administrative, and it's up to the President if they decide to agree with them, are not. In Britain, the Cabinet has legislative power and can veto a presidential decision.

    Importance of the President's Cabinet

    The importance of the President's cabinet is that it serves in an advisory capacity to the President. The Cabinet members also manage their respective departments, which is very important because many of these departments play an essential role in citizens' daily lives, so it's vital that they are running smoothly and functioning to the best of their ability.

    President's Cabinet - Key takeaways

    • The President's cabinet is a group including the vice president and the heads of 15 different executive departments, who serve an advisory role to the President of the United States and manage the departments in the executive branch of government.
    • The word "cabinet" is never used in the Constitution.
    • The role the cabinet plays depends on the President. President may choose to turn to the cabinet regularly for advisement or may choose to use them occasionally. So their impact relies on the President.
    • Being the head of their respective department is one of the crucial roles that cabinet members play.
    Frequently Asked Questions about The President's Cabinet

    What is the president's cabinet?

    The President's cabinet is a group including the vice president and the heads of 15 different executive departments, who serve an advisory role to the President of the United States and manage the departments in the executive branch of government.  

    What is the purpose of the president's cabinet?

    The purpose of the president's cabinet is to serve as an advisory role to the president and manage their respective departments in the executive branch 

    What does the president's cabinet do?

    The president's cabinet serves in an advisory capacity to the president and leads their respective department within the executive branch. 

    What powers do cabinet members have?

    Cabinet Members have no legal political powers allocated to them. 

    Who are the members of the president's Cabinet?

    The members of the Cabinet are the 15 department heads of the executive branch of government. 

    How are president's cabinets appointed?

    The President's Cabinet is appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    The Vice President is part of the Cabinet. 

    Which is the largest executive department? 

    What executive department are ICE and FEMA a part of? 

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