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The United States Cabinet (usually referred to as the President's Cabinet or simplified as the Cabinet) is composed of the most senior appointed officers of the executive branch of the federal government of the United States. Its existence dates back to the first Americanmarker President, George Washington, who appointed a Cabinet of four people (Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson; Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton; Secretary of War Henry Knox; and Attorney General Edmund Randolph) to advise and assist him in his duties. Cabinet officers are nominated by the President and then presented to the United States Senate for confirmation or rejection by a simple majority. If approved, they are sworn in and begin their duties. Aside from the Attorney General, and previously, the Postmaster General, they all receive the title Secretary.Members of the Cabinet serve at the pleasure of the President.

Constitutional and legal basis

Confirmation requirement

Article Two, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution says that the President
"...shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments."

Other constitutional references

Article Two of the Constitution provides that the President can require "the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices." The Constitution did not then establish the names (or list or limit the number) of Cabinet departments; those details were left to the Congress to determine.

Later, upon addition of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, a provision was created allowing the Vice President and "a majority of the principal officers" of the executive branch departments to transmit a notice (to the Speaker of the House and the Senate President pro tempore) that the President is unfit for office. If the President contests this finding, the Congress is directed to settle the matter.

United States Cabinet nominees are chosen from a large pool of potential candidates. One of the few qualification restrictions is set out in the Ineligibility Clause of Article One of the Constitution: "no person holding any office under the United States, shall be a member of either house during his continuance in office." Accordingly, a sitting member of the United States Congress must resign his or her seat to accept a Cabinet appointment. This clause also bars any member of Congress from holding an executive office that was created by law during his or her current term in Congress.

This constitutional separation between the executive and the legislative branches is the opposite of the British parliamentary cabinet system, where members of the Cabinet are required by convention to be sitting members of the legislature.

The Cabinet in federal law

There is no explicit definition of the term "Cabinet" in either the United States Code or the Code of Federal Regulations. However there are occasional references to "cabinet-level officers" or "secretaries", which when viewed in context appear to refer to the heads of the "executive departments" as listed in .

Under federal officials are prohibited from appointing family members to certain governmental posts, including seats in the Cabinet. Passed in 1967, the law was a response to John F. Kennedy's appointment of Robert F. Kennedy to the post of Attorney General.


Recent decline in influence

Though the Cabinet is still an important organ of bureaucratic management, in recent years, the Cabinet has generally declined in relevance as a policy making body. Starting with President Franklin Roosevelt, the trend has been for Presidents to act through the Executive Office of the President or the National Security Council (which generally does include some Cabinet secretaries) rather than through the Cabinet. This has created a situation in which non-Cabinet officials such as the White House Chief of Staff (who requires no Senate confirmation), the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and the National Security Advisor are now as powerful as or more powerful than some Cabinet officials.

Indicative of the Cabinet's relative unimportance in contemporary American government, President Obama did not meet with his assembled Cabinet until a full three months into his administration.

Traditionally, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Defense, and the Attorney General are the most important members of Cabinet, and form an inner circle. In recent years, the Secretary of Homeland Security has risen to a level of significance that is arguably closer to the "big four" than to the other cabinet offices.

During a meeting of the President's Cabinet, members are seated according to the order of precedence, with higher ranking officers sitting closer to the center of the table. Hence, the President and Vice President sit directly across from each other at the middle of the oval shaped table. Then, the Secretaries of State and Defense are seated directly to the right and left, respectively, of the President and the Secretary of Treasury and the Attorney General sit to right and left, respectively, of the Vice President. This alternation according to rank continues, with Cabinet-rank members (those not heading executive departments, the Vice President excluded) sitting at the very ends, farthest away from the president and vice president.

Line of succession

The Cabinet is also important in the presidential line of succession, which determines an order in which Cabinet officers succeed to the office of the president following the death or resignation of the president. At the top of the order of succession are the Vice President, Speaker of the House and President pro tempore of the Senate, and Secretary of State. Because of this, it is common practice not to have the entire Cabinet in one location, even for ceremonial occasions like the State of the Union Address, where at least one Cabinet member does not attend. This person is the designated survivor, and he or she is held at a secure, undisclosed location, ready to take over if the President, Vice President, Speaker of the House, President pro tempore of the Senate, Secretary of State and the rest of the Cabinet are killed.

Cabinet and Cabinet-level officials

The Obama Cabinet.

The men and women listed below were nominated by President Barack Obama to form his initial Cabinet and were confirmed by the United States Senate on the date noted. An elected Vice President does not require Senate confirmation, nor do White House staff positions like chief of staff or press secretary.

Secretary Gates was previously confirmed by the Senate (as President Bush's Secretary of Defense) and therefore did not need to be re-confirmed.


Department Office Incumbent Image in Office since

Department of State
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton January 21, 2009

Department of the Treasury
Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner January 26, 2009

Department of Defense
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates December 18, 2006

Department of Justice
Attorney General Eric Holder February 2, 2009

Department of the Interior
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar January 21, 2009

Department of Agriculture
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack January 21, 2009

Department of Commerce
Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke March 24, 2009

Department of Labor
Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis February 24, 2009

Department of Health and Human Services
Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius April 28, 2009

Department of Housing and Urban Development
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan January 26, 2009

Department of Transportation
Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood January 22, 2009

Department of Energy
Secretary of Energy Steven Chu January 21, 2009

Department of Education
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan January 21, 2009

Department of Veterans' Affairs
Secretary of Veterans' Affairs Eric Shinseki January 21, 2009

Department of Homeland Security
Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano January 21, 2009

Cabinet-level officers

Department Office Incumbent Image in Office since

Office of the Vice President
Vice President of the United States Joe Biden January 20, 2009

Executive Office of the President
White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel January 20, 2009

Office of Management and Budget
Director of the Office of Management and Budget Peter Orszag January 20, 2009

Office of the U.S.
Trade Representative
United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk March 18, 2009

Environmental Protection Agency
Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Lisa P. Jackson January 22, 2009

United States Mission to the United Nations
Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice January 22, 2009

Council of Economic Advisers
Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers Christina Romer January 28, 2009


Cabinet officials receive an amount of pay determined by Title 5 of the United States Code. Some cabinet-level officials, including the Vice President and the White House Chief of Staff have their salaries determined differently.

Former Cabinet departments

Renamed Cabinet offices

Executive officials no longer of Cabinet rank

Proposed Cabinet departments

  • U.S. Department of Commerce and Industry (proposed by business interests in the 1880s)
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture and Labor (proposed by members of U.S. Congress)
  • U.S. Department of Peace (proposed by Congressman Dennis Kucinich, Senator Matthew Neely and members of U.S. Congress)
  • U.S. Department of Public Welfare (proposed by President Warren Harding)
  • U.S. Department of Natural Resources (proposed by former President Herbert Hoover, the Eisenhower administration, President Richard Nixon and the GOP national platform in 1976)
  • U.S. Department of Social Welfare (proposed by President Franklin Roosevelt)
  • U.S. Department of Public Works (proposed by President Franklin Roosevelt)
  • U.S. Department of Conservation (proposed by Interior Secretary Harold L. Ickes)
  • U.S. Department of Urban Affairs (proposed by President John F. Kennedy)
  • U.S. Department of Business and Labor (proposed by President Lyndon Johnson)
  • U.S. Department of Community Development (proposed by President Richard Nixon; to be chiefly concerned with infrastructure)
  • U.S. Department of Human Resources (proposed by President Richard Nixon; essentially a revised Department of Health, Education, and Welfare)
  • U.S. Department of Economic Development (proposed by President Richard Nixon; essentially a consolidation of the Departments of Commerce and Labor)
  • U.S. Department of Environmental Protection (proposed by Senator Arlen Specter)
  • U.S. Department of International Trade (proposed by the Heritage Foundation)
  • U.S. Department of Global Development (proposed by the Center for Global Development and others)
  • U.S. Department of Culture (proposed by Quincy Jones)

Lists of Cabinets

See also


  1. Constitution of the United States,
  2. CNN - Obama to gather Cabinet, seeking $100 million in cuts
  3. The office of Secretary of Foreign Affairs existed under the Articles of Confederation from October 20, 1781 to March 3, 1789, the day before the Constitution came into force.

Further reading

  • Rudalevige, Andrew. "The President and the Cabinet", in Michael Nelson, ed., The Presidency and the Political System, 8th ed. (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2006).
  • Grossman, Mark. Encyclopedia of the United States Cabinet (three volumes). Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2000. ISBN 0-87436-977-0. A history of the United States and Confederate States cabinets, their secretaries, and their departments.
  • Bennett, Anthony. 'The American President's Cabinet' Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan, 1996. ISBN 0-333-60691-4. A study of the U S Cabinet from Kennedy to Clinton.

External links

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