Civics 101: Presidential Cabinet has grown over the years

J. H. Osborne • Dec 25, 2018 at 6:30 PM

Every President of the United States has a lot to do. Just a few examples are: oversee dealing with foreign countries and the defense of our land; keep an eye on how our farms are doing; try to make sure the industry and business of the country are humming along; make sure that there are jobs for workers in our nation; see that the laws of the country are carried out — and carried out fairly; guard our national forests, parks and resources for the use of all the people; and protect the public from harmful diseases and hazards. The list could go on and on.

How can one person do all this? One tool a president has is to delegate work to the Cabinet. Each Cabinet member is the head of an executive department of the government. The president meets with the Cabinet to hear their reports and their suggestions. Usually, they meet once a week or every other week in the Cabinet Room next to the president’s Oval Office in the West Wing of the White House.

First Cabinet

President George Washington developed the Cabinet system by asking the heads of the existing three executive departments and the attorney general to meet with him on a regular basis to discuss issues of importance and to report on their department’s work. The first four Cabinet positions (1789) were: secretary of the treasury, secretary of state, secretary of war and attorney general.

Does the Constitution provide for the formation of a Cabinet?

No. The Constitution vests the executive power in the president. Executive departments were created by successive acts of Congress under authority conferred by the Constitution in Art. I, sec. 8, cl. 18. The Departments of State, Treasury and War were created by the first session of the first Congress. The Cabinet, it should be distinctly understood, is merely an advisory body whose members hold office only during the pleasure of the president. It has no constitutional function as a Cabinet, and the word does not appear in an act of Congress until Feb. 26, 1907.

As the country became larger and more complicated, other departments were added.

President Donald J. Trump’s Cabinet includes Vice President Mike Pence and the heads of the 15 executive departments: Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs, and the attorney general. Additionally, the Cabinet includes the White House chief of staff and heads of the Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Management and Budget, United States trade representative, United States Mission to the United Nations and Small Business Administration.

Sources: www.whitehouse.gov; www.archives.gov; www.trumanlibrary.org

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