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United States Cabinet

United States Cabinet

The United States Cabinet (usually simplified as "the Cabinet") is composed of the most senior appointed officers of the executive branch of the federal government of the United States, and its existence dates back to the first American 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.

Constitutional and legal basis

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 that the Vice President and "a majority of the principal officers" of the executive branch departments may 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 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 before accepting a Cabinet appointment. Likewise, a governor appointed to a cabinet post must resign as governor. This constitutional separation between the executive and the legislative branches is distinct from the British parliamentary cabinet system, where, in most cases, members of the Cabinet are required 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 on the Cabinet. Passed in 1967, the law is apparently a response to John F. Kennedy's appointment of Robert F. Kennedy to the post of Attorney General of the United States.


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 rather than through the Cabinet. This has created a situation in which non-Cabinet officials such as the White House Chief of Staff, 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.

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 Vice President, Speaker of the House and the President pro tempore of the Senate. 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 they are held at a secure, undisclosed location, ready to take over if the President, Vice President, and the rest of the Cabinet are killed.

Current Cabinet

Office Incumbent Image
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates
Attorney General Michael Mukasey
Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff
Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne
Secretary of Agriculture Edward Schafer
Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez
Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao
Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Steve Preston
Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters
Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman
Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings
Secretary of Veterans Affairs James Peake

Cabinet-level administration offices

Six positions have cabinet-level rank, which allows these individuals to attend Cabinet meetings without being secretaries of executive departments:

Office Incumbent Image
Vice President of the United States Richard Cheney
White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten
Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Stephen Johnson
Director of the Office of Management and Budget Jim Nussle
Director of the National Drug Control Policy John Walters
United States Trade Representative Susan Schwab

Level I of the Executive Schedule

Level I of the Executive Schedule is the pay grade for cabinet officials. In addition to the fifteen cabinet secretaries, six positions are listed in the Level I, of which only three (Director of the OMB, Director of the National Drug Control Policy, and the U.S. Trade Representative) have cabinet-level positions. The remaining three are as follows:

Office Incumbent Image
Chairman, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System Ben Bernanke
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration Michael Astrue
Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell

Former Cabinet positions

Proposed Cabinet departments

Lists of Cabinets

See: List of United States Cabinets

See also



  • 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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