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seated according to order of precedence.
December 11, 2003 meeting
The Cabinet is that part of the Executive branch of the United States Government consisting of the heads of the Federal Executive Departmentss. The term Cabinet is nowhere found in the United States Constitution, where reference is made only to the heads of departments.
Article II 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 Twenty-fifth Amendment to the Constitution provides that the Vice President and a majority of the principal officers of the departments can transmit a notice that the President is unfit for office.
The first president of the United States, George Washington quickly realized the importance of having a cabinet. Amongst his first acts he persuaded Congress to recognize the departments of Foreign Affairs (renamed State and given additional powers a few months after its creation), Treasury, and War. Unlike contemporary European advisors who were given the title "minister", the heads of these executive departments would be given the title of "secretary" followed by the name of their department. Although Washington's cabinet also contained the position of Attorney General, the Attorney General did not become the head of the Justice Department until 1870. George Washington's first cabinet consisted of Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State, Alexander Hamilton as Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Knox as Secretary of War, and Edmund Randolph as Attorney General.
The Cabinet is also important in the Presidential line of succession, with the Cabinet officers in the line of succession after the 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.
The 15 Cabinet Secretaries are chosen by the President, and ratified by the United States Senate by simple majority vote. Cabinet Secretaries are often drafted from among past and current American governors, senatorss, congressmen, and other political office holders. Because of the strong system of separation of powers, however, no cabinet member can simultaniously hold an office in the legislative or state branches of government while serving in cabinet. Private citizens, such as bussinessmen or military officials are also common cabinet choices. Unlike the parliamentary system of government, cabinet members are rarely "shuffled" and it is rare for a Secretary to be moved from one department to another.
As well, unlike the Cabinets in parliamentary systems, where the Prime Minister is frequently first among equals, the officials in the United States Cabinet are strongly subordinate to the President. In addition, the United States Cabinet does not play a collective legislative role as do the Cabinets in parliamentary systems. Cabinet members are often required to testify before Congressional delegations to justify their actions, however.
Cabinet members can be fired by the President, or impeached by the Congress. Customarily, cabinet members serve for a President's term, then are either fired or re-appointed when he is elected to a second.
In recent years, the Cabinet has become less and less important 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 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 have power as large or larger than some Cabinet officials.
The current cabinet consists of:
- Secretary of State
- Secretary of the Treasury
- Secretary of Defense
- Attorney General
- Secretary of the Interior
- Secretary of Agriculture
- Secretary of Commerce
- Secretary of Labor
- Secretary of Health and Human Services
- Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
- Secretary of Transportation
- Secretary of Energy
- Secretary of Education
- Secretary of Veterans' Affairs
- Secretary of Homeland Security
- Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency
- Director of the Office of Management and Budget
- Director of the National Drug Control Policy
- U.S. Trade Representative
- Vice President of the United States
- White House Chief of Staff
- Secretary of Foreign Affairs was renamed Secretary of State and given additional responsibilities in March 1790.
- From 1789 to 1947, the duties of the Secretary of Defense were instead handled by Cabinet-level positions of the Secretary of War and the Secretary of the Navy.
- Prior to 1913, the duties of the current Secretaries of Commerce and Labor were held by a single Secretary of Commerce and Labor.
- Between the years 1872 and 1971, the Post Office Department was headed by the Postmaster General which was a Cabinet-level executive agency.
- Prior to 1980, the duties of the Secretaries of Health and Human Services and Education were united in the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare.