What is the Composition of the US Cabinet?

Last updated on January 3rd, 2023 at 08:44 pm

The US presidential system is unique in several ways – from how the cabinet is formed to the name ‘ministers’ are called, and how it is different from a parliamentary system.

For instance, while many countries around the world refer to a member of the cabinet as a “Minister”, the US adopts “Secretary”.

While “Ministries” are popular in many counties, it is called “Departments” in the United State.

Infomediang (Actionable Info) simplifies this composition for easy understanding of those who want to know about the working of the US Cabinet.

The US Cabinet Departments photos shows The Capitol Dome
The US Capitol. Photo: Louis Velazquez

The US Presidential System at a Glance

The presidential system in the US is a model to many countries around the world because it upholds the principle of separation of power.

Separation of power means the three branches of government – the Legislature, the Executive, and the Judiciary – perform different functions.

The executive can not perform the functions of the legislature while the judiciary is also independent of the other two branches.

The president’s party doesn’t need to have the majority in Congress and his allegiance is to the United States of America.

Under Article II of the Constitution of the USA, the President has a duty to implement and enforce the laws created by Congress.

Brief History of the US Presidential Cabinet

The history of the cabinet in the United States will be incomplete without paying tribute to the first president of the country George Washington.

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Washington constituted the first US cabinet on March 4, 1789. His decision as the first president of a new country was one proactive step in how to effectively manage the affairs of the country.

Unlike today, where the US has an elaborate cabinet members, the first president of the US only had four members in his cabinet made of his close associates to help him implement policies.

So, the pioneer Secretaries of Departments were Thomas Jefferson (Department of State); Alexander Hamilton (Department of Treasury); Henry Knox (Department of War now Department of Defence), and Edmund Randolph (Attorney General).

What is the Cabinet in the US Government?

The US government cabinet is an extension of the executive arm which consists of the Vice President, principal officers, and other cabinet-level members including the White House Chief of Staff that helps the president to implement and enforce the laws that were created by Congress.

Members of the cabinet are the eye of the president in their respective departments, agencies, and any international organization.

How Is US Cabinet Formed?

When a president emerges victorious at an election and he’s declared the president-elect and sworn in, he becomes head of state and head of government of the United States of America, and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.

It is a culture in the US democratic history for the president-elect to begin consultations with party men to compile the list of nominees that will assist him to coordinate the affairs of the 15 departments in the United States.

The president isn’t a superman, he can’t oversee the affairs of various ministries or departments in the country all alone, which informs his decision to begin the process of the composition of his cabinet the day he is declared a president-elect.

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Note: A member of Congress or a Lawmaker can not be a member of the cabinet in the US unlike in other countries where the parliamentary system is practised.

The president upon swearing in sends his list of nominees to the Senate for ratification. The nominees must be confirmed.

In the United States, the nominees know their portfolios which is why the Senate asks questions tailored to the assignment in that department.

Once confirmed, each member of the cabinet is responsible to the president. As such, the president has the power to reshuffle or sack an underperforming cabinet member without the approval of the Senate.

Composition of the Cabinet:

The cabinet is made up of 25 members (including the Vice President): 15 secretaries of executive departments (known as ministries in some climes) and 9 cabinet-level members.

Each of the departments is headed by a Secretary appointed by the President to carry out the day-to-day administration of the federal government for the general well-being of American citizens.

The cabinet can be subdivided into two:

  • 15 principal officers (the VP makes it 16)
  • 9 cabinet-level members

Cabinet Principal officers

The 15 cabinet departments and the principal officers in order of hierarchy and their portfolios after the Vice President are:

CabinetOfficers
Department of StateSecretary of State
Department of TreasurySecretary of Treasury
Department of DefenceSecretary Defence
Department of JusticeThe Attorney General
Department of InteriorSecretary of The Interior
Department of AgricultureSecretary of Agriculture
Department of CommerceSecretary of Commerce
Department of LaborSecretary of Labor
Department of Health and Human ServicesSecretary of Health and Human Services
Department of Housing and Urban DevelopmentSecretary of Housing and Urban Development
Department of TransportationSecretary of Transportation
Department of EnergySecretary of Energy
Department of EducationSecretary of Education
Department of Veterans AffairsSecretary of Veterans Affairs
Department of Homeland SecuritySecretary of Homeland Security

Cabinet-level members

Cabinet-level in the US is made up of nine members who have cabinet-rank status:

  1. Chief of Staff, White House
  2. Administrator Of The Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA)
  3. The Director of National Intelligence
  4. The US Trade Representative
  5. The US Ambassador to the United Nations
  6. Chair of The Council Of Economic Advisers
  7. Head Of The Small Business Administration
  8. Head, Office of Management and Budget,
  9. Head, Office of Science and Technology Policy
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Roles of the Cabinet

1) The cabinet’s role is to represent the president at the level of their department to assist in implementing policies as the president would have done.

2) The executive arm through the cabinet members oversees the effectiveness and efficiency of the agencies within their portfolio.

3) To ensure agencies under their departments help the president to achieve his manifestos during the campaign.

Is there any difference between Department and Ministry?

Technically, there is no difference between department and ministry, the difference is in the name.

 It is important to note that after the ratification of the text of the Declaration of Independence by the United States on July 4, 1776, it was obvious that the US was ready to drop some of the political terms associated with colonialism and their masters.

Till today, the use of ministry is common among former colonies of Britain, except in the US and a few countries where department is adopted.

Similarity:

 A Secretary of a Department or a Minister who oversees the affairs of a ministry is a member of a ruling government’s cabinet.

It is a political portfolio given to a member of the ruling party to help the president implement policies.

Final thought:

The US presidential system of government isn’t just a model for countries around the world to emulate, the manner in which the cabinet is composed and how they function makes their system pacesetter in democratic principles.

Without the cabinet members, the president can only achieve little or nothing, they are his eyes in various departments and agencies.

References:

  1. Obama White House Archive. “The Executive Branch”. archives.gov
  2. The White House. “The Cabinet”. whitehouse.gov
  3. Wikipedia (November 19, 2022, Edition). “Cabinet Level Officials”. wikipedia.org

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