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What is the United States Cabinet?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jan 25, 2024
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Collectively, the senior appointees of the executive branch are referred to as the United States Cabinet. Most Cabinet members head specific agencies within the United States Government, although several people hold Cabinet-level positions without heading particular agencies. The history of the United States Cabinet, also known as the Presidential Cabinet, dates back to George Washington, who had a panel of four senior officials in his Cabinet.

The members of the Presidential Cabinet are expected to discharge the duties associated with the departments they head, while also providing advice and information to the President. The President of the United States cannot be aware of everything that is going at once, since America is a very large country with a great deal of foreign ties, but he or she does need to be kept apprised of major emerging issues, and Cabinet members are part of the team which keeps the President up to date. They also provide policy advice and insight when asked to do so by the President.

The power of the Cabinet has waxed and waned historically. During some periods, Cabinet members were immensely powerful, and they sometimes even became the powers behind the Presidency. In other instances, the Presidential Cabinet has been important and influential, but not all powerful. Each President works with the Cabinet in a slightly different way, and differences in style can result in radically different levels of influence.

Four members of the United States Cabinet are especially important, and sometimes termed the “Big Four.” These members are the Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of Defense, and Attorney General of the United States. In addition to the Big Four, the Presidential Cabinet also includes the Postmaster 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, and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Cabinet-level positions include: the Vice President of the United States, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, the Director of the National Drug Control Policy, and the US Trade Representative.

In order to serve on the United States Cabinet, an official must be appointed by a sitting President and confirmed through a series of Senate hearings before being sword in. It is rare to see the President and the entire Cabinet together, both because it is difficult to get things accomplished with such a huge group, and because many of the members of the Presidential Cabinet are in the Presidential Line of Succession, and therefore they must be kept separated for national security reasons.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By ras1953 — On Feb 18, 2009

What are the salaries and bonuses for the head cabinet positions?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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