Episode 24 (formerly 1612): The President’s Cabinet


The President of the United States has a group of advisors that he depends on to run the country. This group of advisors is known as the president’s Cabinet. The Cabinet is established by the US Constitution. However, the Cabinet is only referred to indirectly in the Constitution as “executive departments” that advise the president. Its organization isn’t directly specified. Today’s Cabinet is a result of custom, necessity and tradition.

The Cabinet consists of the vice-president and the leaders, or secretaries, of 15 executive departments. Secretaries are appointed by the president and must be approved by the Senate. Only the president can fire them, and they are expected to resign when the president leaves office. The secretaries in the Cabinet are in the direct line of succession for the presidency if the president or vice-president cannot perform the duties of president.

The president meets almost every week with the Cabinet. Also included in the regular Cabinet meetings are the White House Chief of Staff and the secretaries of six additional Cabinet-level departments.

The first Cabinet meeting was held by George Washington, the country’s first president. However, the word “Cabinet” wasn’t used until the fourth president, James Madison, said it. It comes from an Italian word meaning small, private room.

Here is a list of the Cabinet executive departments in order of succession to the Presidency, along with their responsibilities:

  • Department of State (formerly Department of Foreign Affairs)
    Established 1789
    Responsible for international relations and international travel, including passports and visas. Hillary Clinton was Obama’s Secretary of State.
  • Department of the Treasury
    Established 1789
    Collects taxes, manages the country’s money; produces currency; promotes financial stability
  • Department of Defense (formerly National Military Establishment)
    Established 1947
    In charge of the military forces; headquarters are in the Pentagon building in Washington, DC
  • Department of Justice
    Established 1870
    Enforces laws via the court system; responsible for the Supreme Court
  • Department of the Interior
    Established 1849
    Deals with natural resources and cultural heritage, especially for Native Americans; manages national parks, geology, oceans, mining, rivers, dams and forests
  • Department of Agriculture
    Established 1862
    Regulates food safety, farms, nutrition standards and rural development
  • Department of Commerce
    Established 1903
    Creates conditions for economic growth and opportunity; helps business
  • Department of Labor (formerly part of the Department of the Interior)
    Established 1913
    Promotes workers’, job seekers’ and retirees’ rights; improves working conditions and benefits
  • Department of Health and Human Services (formerly Health, Education and Welfare)
    Established 1953
    Enhances and protects health and well-being, medicine, public health and social services, including “Obamacare” administration
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development
    Established 1965
    Helps ensure affordable housing for all
  • Department of Transportation
    Established 1967
    Oversees the national transportation system, including air, rail and cargo transportation, as well as infrastructure for private automobiles and public transportation
  • Department of Energy
    Established 1977
    Conducts programs to find clean, efficient, renewable energy and manages the US oil reserves
  • Department of Education (formerly part of Health, Education and Welfare)
    Established 1979
    Deals with public education standards and statistics plus financial aid programs for university students
  • Department of Veterans Affairs
    Established 1930 (elevated to Cabinet level 1989)
    Deals with benefits and programs for veterans
  • Department of Homeland Security
    Established 2002
    Protects the country from terrorism

The following positions have the status of Cabinet-rank:

  • Environmental Protection Agency
    Concerned with environmental issues
  • Office of Management & Budget
    Largest part of the Executive Office of the President; helps implement presidential policies; concerned with national budget, procurement, IT, research for decision-making, communication review, Executive Orders and Presidential Memoranda
  • United States Trade Representative
    Negotiates trade agreements with other nations
  • United States Mission to the United Nations
    The US delegation to the UN
  • Council of Economic Advisers
    Offers the President economic advice about domestic and international economic policy
  • Small Business Administration
    Helps small businesses via financial programs, training, technical assistance, and other areas

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