Key Positions in the Executive Branch

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Key Positions in the Executive Branch

The federal government has three main branches. Congress is the legislative branch, the one that makes the laws. The president is the head of the executive branch, which enforces the laws. The Supreme Court is the head of the judicial branch, which decides cases brought under the laws.

After the president, the key positions in the executive branch are the vice president, the cabinet, key officers in the Executive Office of the President, the heads of the executive agencies, and commissioners of the regulatory commissions.


The Constitution is the blueprint for American government. In Article II, Section 1, it says, "The executive power shall be vested in a president of the United States of America." This makes the president the head of the executive branch of the federal government. To become president, a person must be at least thirty-five years old, a natural born American citizen, and a resident of the United States for at least fourteen years.

Presidential powers

The Constitution gives the president the power to enforce the nation's laws, command the army and navy, and send and receive foreign ambassadors. The president also has the power to recommend laws to Congress and to veto, or reject, laws passed by Congress. Congress, however, can override a veto with a two-thirds vote in both chambers, the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The president shares two constitutional powers with the Senate. First, the president can make treaties, or agreements, with foreign nations if two-thirds of the Senate approves. Second, the president appoints people to serve as judges or high-level officers in the federal government. The Senate, however, must approve the appointments by a simple majority.

Unofficial duties

Presidents have other roles that do not come specifically from the Constitution. A president serves as chief-of-state, the symbolic leader of the country, even though he is head of just one of three branches.

The power to recommend and veto legislation has led some scholars to call the president the chief legislator. This is because the president's legislative powers can allow him to set the tone for Congress's legislative agenda, or plan.

Finally, Americans today expect the president to have plans for the national economy. They want plentiful, well-paying jobs and strong businesses. This leads some scholars to consider the president the chief economist, even though most presidents are not trained economists.

Election and removal

Presidents are elected to a four-year term of office. The nation's first president, George Washington (1732–1799; served 1789–97), set a two-term example by refusing to run for a third term of office. Future presidents followed Washington's example until Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45) ran for and won a record four terms (though he died at the beginning of the fourth). Roosevelt's accomplishment led the nation to adopt the Twenty-second Amendment in 1951. Under the Twenty-second Amendment, a person may not be elected to the presidency for more than two terms.

The only way to remove a president from office before the expiration of his term is by impeachment in the House and conviction in the Senate. Presidents (and other government officials) can be impeached only for committing treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors. The Constitution defines treason as levying war against the United States or giving aid to its enemies. Bribery involves influencing official government action with money or some other benefit.

The Constitution does not define "high crimes and misdemeanors," so scholars disagree over what it means. Some think it means only serious crimes. Others think it means any conduct that is inappropriate for a president. Because the House of Representatives has sole power to impeach and the Senate has sole power to convict, they get to determine what "high crimes and misdemeanors" means in specific cases. Two presidents have been impeached by the House: Andrew Johnson (1808–1875; served 1865–69) in 1868 for violating a congressional law, and Bill Clinton (1946–; served 1993–2001) in 1998 for lying under oath. In both cases, the Senate failed to convict the president, so they remained in office. In August 1974, President Richard M. Nixon (1913–1994; served 1969–74) resigned from office because the House was almost certainly about to impeach him for his role in covering up a 1972 burglary of the offices of the Democratic National Committee by members of the Republican Party, a scandal that became known as Watergate.

Vice president

The Constitution requires the United States to elect a vice president to serve the same four-year term as the president. Under the Twelfth Amendment, adopted in 1804, a person cannot be vice president unless he or she satisfies the same qualifications required for the presidency. This means vice presidents must be natural born American citizens who are at least thirty-five years old and who have been U.S. residents for at least fourteen years.

Constitutional roles

The Constitution gives the vice president just two jobs. First, the vice president serves as president of the Senate. In this role, the vice president has the power to cast tie-breaking votes when the whole Senate is equally divided on an issue. The vice president does not get to speak during Senate debates, however, and does not get to vote in any other situation. The position, however, makes the vice president part of the legislative branch in addition to being a high-ranking officer in the executive branch.

The vice president's other job under the Constitution is to replace a president who dies, resigns, or becomes unable to do the job. This power initially came from Article II, Section 1. The Constitution, however, left it unclear whether vice presidents would replace presidents for the remainder of their terms, or only until a special election could be held to select a new president. According to Sidney M. Milkis and Michael Nelson in The American Presidency, historical evidence suggests that the men who wrote the Constitution in 1787 wanted special elections.

History, however, led to a different result. In April 1841, President William Henry Harrison (1773–1841; served 1841) died after only a month in office. His vice president, John Tyler (1790–1862; served 1841–45), insisted that the Constitution allowed him to fill the office of the presidency for the remainder of Harrison's term, until 1845. At the time, historians did not have access to the evidence that the men who wrote the Constitution preferred a special election. So Tyler served the remainder of Harrison's term, establishing a tradition that future vice presidents followed when taking over for presidents who had died or otherwise left office before the end of a term.

Despite the fact that seven presidents died in office over the course of 126 years, the tradition of a vice president being sworn in as president did not become official until 1967 when the Twenty-fifth Amendment was adopted. Section 1 says, "In case of the removal of the president from office or his death or resignation, the vice president shall become president."

History of the vice presidency

The vice presidency was not a very powerful position for well over a century from its beginning. The first vice president, John Adams (1735–1826), got to cast the tie-breaking vote twenty-nine times during his eight years as president of the Senate. Still, as quoted in The American Presidency, Adams once wrote to his wife, Abigail Adams (1744–1818), "My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived."

As the country grew and the number of senators grew with it, tie-breaking votes in the Senate became less common. This reduced the power of the vice presidency even further. Vice President John Nance Garner (1868–1967), who served from 1933 to 1941 under president Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45), said (as quoted in The American Presidency), "The vice presidency isn't worth a pitcher of warm spit."

Growth of vice presidential power

Prior to 1940, political parties picked the vice presidential candidates at election time. This often forced presidents to serve with vice presidents whom they did not like or trust. In fact, during the nation's first four elections, the vice president was simply the person who came in second in the presidential race. The result of the nation's third election in 1796 was that Federalist president John Adams (1735–1826) served with a Democratic-Republican vice president, Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), from 1797 to 1801.

In 1940, towards the end of his second term in office, President Franklin Roosevelt told the Democratic Party he would not run again unless they selected Secretary of Agriculture Henry A. Wallace (1888–1965) as his vice presidential running mate. The party granted Roosevelt's wish. Since then, presidential candidates have picked their running mates on their own, usually with advice from a team of close advisors. This has strengthened relationships in the White House, making presidents more willing to give important duties to vice presidents.

As of 2005, vice presidents tend to have three important duties outside those assigned by the Constitution. First, they frequently represent the president in visits to foreign countries for meetings, funerals, and other ceremonies.

Second, they typically serve in the president's cabinet, which consists of the heads of the executive departments and other important executive officials. Presidents meet with their cabinets for advice on important decisions and crises.

Third, a congressional law makes the vice president part of the National Security Council, which meets with and advises the president on issues relating to national safety.

According to a popular saying, the vice president is only a heartbeat away from the presidency. Because vice presidents must be able to replace the president at a moment's notice, modern presidents tend to keep vice presidents well informed about the workings of the executive branch. They let vice presidents attend important meetings and read secret reports. Starting with President Gerald Ford (1913–; served 1974–77) and Vice President Nelson Rockefeller (1908–1979), presidents have met privately with their vice presidents once a week, often over lunch. Beginning with Walter Mondale (1928–) in 1977, vice presidents have had an office in the West Wing of the White House.

Cabinet and department heads

The president's cabinet consists of the heads of the executive departments plus a few other high-ranking executive officers. Departments are responsible for large areas of government in the executive branch. As of 2005, there are fifteen departments: Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health & Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing & Urban Development, Interior, Justice, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs.

Presidents consult their cabinets for information and advice on important policy matters and decisions. Usually, however, presidents do not meet with the entire cabinet at the same time. Instead, they consult with cabinet members individually or hold meetings with the members who can help with a particular issue.

The head of a department is usually called the secretary, except the head of the Department of Justice, who is the attorney general. Secretaries are normally assisted by various deputy, under-, and assistant secretaries (or attorneys general). Presidents have the power to select these officials, but the Senate must approve the selections by a simple majority. Presidents can fire these officials at will, without Senate approval.

Secretary of agriculture

The secretary of agriculture is head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). President Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865; served 1861–65) created the USDA in 1862, when 58 percent of working Americans were farmers.

An Appointed President: Gerald Ford

Gerald Ford became president on August 9, 1974. As of 2005, he is the only person to serve as both president and vice president without being elected to either office.

On October 10, 1973, Ford was serving as a member of the House of Representatives from the fifth congressional district of Michigan. That day, Vice President Spiro T. Agnew (1918–1996) resigned from office. Agnew had failed to report almost $30,000 on his federal income tax return in 1967 while he was governor of Maryland. He also was accused of taking bribes while serving as a county official in Maryland.

Under the Twenty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution, President Richard M. Nixon (1913–1994; served 1969–74) had to nominate someone to replace Agnew. Nixon nominated Ford, who was the Republican Party leader in the House at the time. Under the Twenty-fifth Amendment, both chambers of Congress had to vote on whether to approve Nixon's nomination. Both chambers approved the nomination, and Ford took office as vice president on December 6, 1973.

Less than a year later, Nixon resigned from the presidency. Nixon was being investigated for possible crimes connected with the cover-up of the Watergate scandal. The scandal began in 1972 when members of the Republican Party burglarized the offices of the Democratic National Committee. Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974, after the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives recommended that Congress impeach Nixon and remove him from office.

Ford took the presidential oath of office the day Nixon resigned. He spent the next month trying to restore American confidence in the office of the presidency. On September 8, 1974, President Ford granted Nixon a full pardon for all crimes Nixon may have committed. (A pardon is official forgiveness for a crime, preventing the criminal from being prosecuted and punished.) Ford said he pardoned Nixon to allow the nation to heal instead of suffering through a long and disruptive criminal proceeding against a former president. Ford's approval rating, which had been high up to that point, dropped significantly because many Americans believed Nixon should face criminal charges. Ford never fully recovered, and he ultimately lost the 1976 election to former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter (1924–; served 1977–81).

The secretary of agriculture runs a $81.7 billion department that has seventeen agencies and twelve offices as of 2005. It employs nearly 110,000 people. Agencies run the department's government programs. Offices manage the department and its interactions with other government offices and the public.

According to the USDA's Web site in 2005, USDA agencies operate in seven mission areas. The Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services mission gives government money to agricultural businesses. Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services provides science-based dietary guidance and administers dietary assistance programs. Food Safety regulates the country's meat, poultry, and egg supply. Marketing and Regulatory Programs creates markets for agricultural products and sets standards for animal health and care. Natural Resources and Environment runs programs to protect land and water. Research, Education, and Economics uses research and education to create a strong agricultural economy. Rural Development gives government money to businesses and housing and utility projects in rural America, where farmers work and live.

Secretary of commerce

The U.S. Department of Commerce is the "voice of business in government," according to its Web site. The secretary of commerce is head of the department, which has around thirty-six thousand employees and an annual budget of $6.1 billion as of 2005. The department collects economic data, issues trademarks and patents, sets technical standards, forecasts the weather, conducts ocean and coastal zone research, manages marine fisheries and sanctuaries, enforces international trade laws, and develops national policy for telecommunications and technology.

Secretary of defense

The secretary of defense is head of the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), which was created in 1947 by combining the War Department, the Navy Department, and the Department of the Air Force. As of 2005, the DOD has three million military and civilian employees and an annual budget of nearly $429 billion.

The office of the secretary of defense plans and implements national security and defense policy for the DOD. It also oversees the department's budgets, managerial staffs, military force readiness, and purchasing.

Under the Office of the Secretary, the DOD is divided into three main areas. One area contains the military departments, including the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and National Guard and Reserve forces. The DOD also helps train and equip the U.S. Coast Guard, which is in the Department of Transportation.

The second main area under the secretary is the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Joint Chiefs of Staff contains a chairman appointed by the president plus the heads of the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force. They work together to coordinate the manpower, intelligence, operations, logistics, strategic plans, command and control operations, communications, operational plans, and resources of all the military departments.

The third main area under the secretary is the Unified Commands. As of 2005, this area has nine military commanders who have direct access to the president and the secretary of defense. Five of the commanders oversee military operations in five different sections of the world. Four of the commanders oversee worldwide operations, with specific concern for transportation of the military forces, special operations, strategic command issues, and joint forces command issues.

Secretary of education

The secretary of education heads the U.S. Department of Education, which Congress created in 1980. As of 2005, the department has about forty-five hundred employees and an annual budget of $64.3 billion.

According to its Web site, the Department of Education has four primary missions. It establishes policies and administers programs for distributing federal financial aid to state programs, schools, and students. It conducts and publishes research on the condition and performance of America's schools. It runs programs to bring national attention to key educational issues. Finally, it promotes equal access to education for children and students regardless of race, color, and other potential features of discrimination.

Secretary of energy

The secretary of energy is head of the U.S. Department of Energy. As of 2005, the department has around one hundred thousand employees and an annual budget of about $24 billion.

The Energy Department has four main areas of responsibility. It develops nuclear and other scientific technology for defense projects. It develops national policies for the development and use of energy sources, such as coal and petroleum. It conducts scientific energy research to support the nation's national security and economic goals. Finally, it works to dispose of the high-level radioactive waste left over from the government's Cold War nuclear weapons programs. (The Cold War was a period from the late 1940s to the early 1990s when the United States competed with the former Soviet Union to be the world's strongest superpower. Development of nuclear weapons was a major part of the Cold War.)

Secretary of health & human services

The secretary of health & human services heads the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. As of 2005, the department has nearly sixty-eight thousand employees and an annual budget of about $575 billion.

The department has over three hundred programs run by eleven operational agencies. Eight of them are U.S. Public Health Services Agencies. The National Institutes of Health conducts medical research on the cause, prevention, treatment, and cure of common and rare diseases. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the safety of food, cosmetics, drugs, biological products, and medical devices. The Centers for Disease Control and Protection works to prevent and control diseases. The Indian Health Service works to provide health services to Native Americans through hospitals, health centers, and other facilities. The Health Resources and Services Administration funds health centers to provide health care to people who are poor or who do not have health insurance or access to health care facilities. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration funds programs to prevent drug and alcohol abuse and to provide mental health services. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality funds research on the quality and cost of health systems and access to them.

The three other operational agencies in the department are human services agencies. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services provides health insurance to elderly, disabled, and low-income Americans. The Administration for Children and Families runs welfare and other aid programs for needy children, families, and communities. The Administration on Aging provides aid and services to elderly Americans.

Secretary of homeland security

The secretary of homeland security is head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The DHS began in October 2001 as the Office of Homeland Security, an office President George W. Bush (1946–; served 2001–) created after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Congress made the office a full department in the executive branch in October 2002, filling it with twenty-two agencies from throughout the government.

As of 2005, the DHS employs over 180,000 people and has an annual budget of $31 billion. Its mission is to deter and prevent terrorist attacks in America. The department has five divisions, including Border & Transportation Security, Emergency Preparedness & Response, Science & Technology, Information Analysis & Infrastructure Protection, and Management.

Secretary of housing & urban development

The secretary of housing & urban development heads the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD). HUD's mission is to increase homeownership in America, fund community development projects, and implement fair housing laws to prevent discrimination in housing. As of 2005, HUD has an annual budget of nearly $39 billion and employs over ten thousand people.

One of HUD's primary offices is the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), which administers mortgage and loan insurance to help people buy homes. Another main project is the Community Development Block Grants program. It gives money to communities to help them develop local economies, create jobs, and fix rundown housing.

Secretary of the interior

The secretary of the interior is head of the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI). Employing about seventy thousand people with a budget of nearly $9 billion as of 2005, the DOI's mission is to regulate land use and federally owned land in America, and manage the country's relationships with Native American tribes.

The DOI has eight agencies that operate in four primary areas. The National Parks Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manage America's national parks and wildlife. The Bureau of Indian Affairs manages America's relationship with Native American tribes. The Bureau of Land Management, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, and Minerals Management Service regulate the extraction of resources from American lands. The U.S. Geological Survey does earth and minerals science for the DOI. The Bureau of Reclamation distributes water and electricity for seventeen western states.

Attorney general: the Justice Department

The attorney general is head of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). The attorney general oversees the nation's primary law enforcement activities in the DOJ's offices, divisions, and bureaus. As of 2005, the department employs over 110,000 people and has a budget of $23.7 billion.

The Office of the Solicitor General handles the federal government's side of the case in appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court. The associate attorney general oversees legal offices that handle antitrust, civil rights, environment, tax, and other civil litigation. The deputy attorney general oversees offices concerned with criminal law enforcement, such as the Criminal Division of the DOJ, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and the Bureau of Prisons.

Secretary of labor

The secretary of labor heads the U.S. Department of Labor. As of 2005, the department employs over seventeen thousand people and has a budget of over $57 billion. The Labor Department administers programs and laws relating to labor and employment in America. Some of its major bureaus and agencies include the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which compiles employment data. The Employee Standards Administration implements federal laws concerning minimum wages, overtime pay, and other employment standards. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates safety in American workplaces.

First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton

The wife of the president of the United States is called the first lady. Hillary Rodham Clinton (1947–) was the first lady during the presidency of Bill Clinton (1946–), from 1993 to 2001.

First ladies usually do not play a large role in making public policy. Instead, they normally have ceremonial duties and devote time to public service projects. Laura Bush (1946–), for example, is a former schoolteacher and librarian who worked to bring attention to children's education and women's health issues during the first term of President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2005.

Hillary Clinton, a lawyer, departed from the normal role for first ladies. In 1993, she was the first presidential wife to set up her own office in the West Wing of the White House. That year, President Clinton appointed his wife to lead a task force on national health care. The task force investigated and reported to Congress on ways to improve health insurance coverage in America. Congress, however, declined to implement the task force's recommendations.

Hillary Clinton's work in the White House received both criticism and praise. Opponents criticized her for serving in policy roles without being an elected official or an appointed officer approved by the Senate. Supporters praised her for setting an example of strong leadership for future first ladies.

In 1999, Hillary Clinton became the first woman to run for elective office while serving as first lady. She sought to become a U.S. senator from New York, and won the election of 2000 against her opponent, Rick Lazio (1958–). Vice president Al Gore (1948–) swore in Hillary Clinton as a senator in January 2001, just weeks before President Clinton left office to be replaced by George W. Bush.

Secretary of state

The secretary of state is head of the U.S. Department of State. The State Department is one of only three departments created in 1789, at the start of the first administration of President George Washington (1732–1799; served 1789–97). (The other two are the Department of the Treasury and the Department of War, now called the Department of Defense.) As of 2005, the department employs over 30,000 people and has a budget of nearly $28 billion.

Who's in Charge?

The Constitution says that the vice president is in charge if the president dies, resigns, or is unable to discharge his duties. By congressional law, the next three people in the line of succession are the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the president pro tempore of the Senate, and the secretary of state.

The issue became important on March 30, 1981, when John Hinckley (1955–) shot President Ronald Reagan (1911–2004; served 1981–89) as Reagan left the Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. The Secret Service rushed Reagan to a hospital at George Washington University. Surgeons removed a bullet that bounced off Reagan's limousine, lodging one inch from his heart.

As Reagan underwent surgery, members of his administration met in the Situation Room at the White House to discuss the crisis. Among them was Secretary of State Alexander Haig (1924–). One thing they discussed was who was in charge while the president was in surgery. According to tapes of the meeting released in 2001, Haig said, "So the helm is right here. And that means right in this chair for now, constitutionally, until the vice president gets here." Haig repeated the statement at a press conference soon afterwards, saying, "As of now, I am in control here in the White House pending return of the vice president."

Vice President George Bush (1924–) was returning to the White House from Texas at the time. Haig received a lot of criticism for saying he was in control, because under the Constitution, Bush was in control, wherever he was, if President Reagan was unable to do his job.

During a Larry King Live television program on the twentieth anniversary of the assassination attempt, former attorney general Edwin Meese III (1931–) said criticism of Haig had been unfair: "[Haig] had heard from the press room that the statement was made that they weren't sure who was in charge, and he went bounding up there. And I think that was really his motivation, to make it clear to foreign leaders that we were not adrift and there was no vacuum."

As head of the State Department, the secretary works directly with the president to develop America's foreign affairs policies. These are policies that guide the country's relationships with foreign nations. The secretary also oversees the department's many operations.

The United States Agency for International Development is a State Department agency that spends government money to develop economies worldwide. The United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations is the office for American ambassadors to the United Nations (UN). The UN is a cooperative organization of governments from around the world. As of 2005, 191 countries belong to the UN. According to its charter, or document of organization, the UN's goals are to maintain international peace and security, develop friendly relations among nations, solve international problems, promote human rights, and harmonize the conduct of member nations.

The secretary of state has many undersecretaries. The under-secretary for political affairs oversees the offices of American ambassadors, who represent America before governments and organizations around the world. The undersecretary for economic, business, and agricultural affairs advises the secretary on matters relating to international economies. The undersecretary for arms control and international proliferation works with the president to develop policies for controlling the kinds of weapons that other countries have. The undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs educates the public both abroad and in America about foreign affairs issues. The undersecretary for global affairs coordinates worldwide foreign affairs on specific subjects, including democracy, human rights, labor, the environment, and women's issues.

Secretary of transportation

The secretary of transportation heads the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). Established in 1967, the DOT employs nearly sixty thousand people with an annual budget of nearly $59 billion as of 2005. According to its mission statement, the DOT works to ensure a fast, safe, efficient, accessible, and convenient transportation system in America.

The DOT has many agencies for carrying out its mission. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulates the safety of commercial aircraft and airlines. The Federal Highway Administration (FHA) funds programs for repairing and expanding the National Highway System, which is approximately 160,000 miles of U.S. roadways. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulates commercial vehicles. The Federal Railroad Administration regulates the nation's railways. The Federal Transit Administration funds mass transit systems, such as subways and buses, in the urban areas. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regulates safety on the National Highway System.

Secretary of the treasury

The secretary of the treasury is head of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, which began in 1789. As of 2005, the department employs nearly 116,000 people and has a budget of $52 billion. The Treasury Department has primary responsibility for America's financial affairs. Bureaus and offices in the Treasury Department, including the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), collect taxes and enforce tax laws. The department also pays America's bills, manages the national debt, produces postage and currency, and regulates national banks. The secretary of the treasury works directly with the president to develop financial, monetary, economic, trade, and tax policies, both national and international.

Secretary of veterans affairs

The secretary of veterans affairs heads the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans Affairs is the second largest employer (nearly 220,000 people) in the executive branch, after the Department of Defense. The department has a budget of $67 billion. The secretary oversees the department's various offices, which administer programs for veterans and their families. The main programs include health care through veterans hospitals and clinics, pension, disability, and death benefits, GI bill benefits for education and training, counseling services, homeless benefits, home loan assistance, life insurance, and national cemeteries.

Other cabinet officers

In addition to the heads of the fifteen executive departments, other executive officers can serve in the cabinet if the president wishes. As of 2005, for example, the cabinet of President George W. Bush included the vice president of the United States, the president's chief of staff, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, the U.S. trade representative, and the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Executive Office of the President

The executive branch is enormous, employing millions of Americans. To help him run it, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Executive Office of the President (EOP) in 1939. As of 2005, the EOP contains over a dozen offices. Four of the most important positions in the EOP are the chief of staff, director of the Office of Management and Budget, director of the National Economic Council, and national security advisor.

Chief of staff

The White House chief of staff is the highest-ranking official in the EOP. Generally, the chief of staff supervises the White House staff and manages the president's schedule. By managing the president's schedule, the chief of staff decides who has access to the president. The chief of staff can also serve as a trusted advisor to the president on policy issues and important decisions.

Director of the Office of Management and Budget

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) helps the president prepare a budget proposal each year. A budget proposal is a plan for how much government money Congress should give the federal branches, departments, and agencies for their operations. Congress uses the OMB's proposal to prepare tax and spending laws for the year. Congress does not have to follow the OMB's proposal, but the proposal greatly affects what Congress does.

The head of the OMB is called the director. The director of the OMB has one of the most powerful positions in the EOP. This is because the OMB's annual budget proposal influences how much money the executive departments, agencies, and other offices get from Congress.

Director of the National Economic Council

The National Economic Council (NEC) was created in 1993. Its role is to help the president develop and implement economic policies, both domestic and international. The head of the NEC is called the director.

National security advisor

The national security advisor is officially called the assistant to the president for national security affairs. The national security advisor is a lead member of the National Security Council (NSC). The NSC was created in 1947, after the end of World War II (1939–45), which America was drawn into after Japan attacked a military base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in 1941.

The NSC helps the president develop policies on national security, or safety, and coordinates those policies among the departments and agencies of the executive branch. The president serves as chairperson of the NSC. In addition to the national security advisor, other regular members of the NSC are the vice president and the secretaries of the Defense, State, and Treasury Departments. The chairperson of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is the military advisor to the NSC, and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is its intelligence advisor. Other senior executive officials attend NSC meetings that relate to their areas of concern.

Bureau and agency heads

Many executive departments are divided into bureaus. Bureau chiefs serve as heads of the various bureaus. Just as with department secretaries, presidents get to appoint bureau chiefs with the advice and consent of the Senate.

The executive branch also contains dozens of agencies. An agency is a government office that handles a very specific government function. Agencies are usually controlled by the president but are independent of any executive department. Examples include the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

The heads of executive agencies are often called directors or administrators. Like department secretaries and bureau chiefs, agency heads are appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate.

Regulatory commissioners

A regulatory commission is a government body that regulates a specific area of the economy. Examples include the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Federal Reserve Board, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

The heads of the commissions are called commissioners. Each commission typically has a panel of five commissioners. Commissioners are appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate. Unlike department secretaries, bureau chiefs, and agency heads, however, commissioners cannot be removed by the president at will. They can only be removed for reasons provided by congressional law, such as criminal conduct. This gives regulatory commissions a degree of independence from the executive branch.

For More Information


Congressional Quarterly Inc. Powers of the Presidency. 2nd ed. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 1997.

Hart, John. The Presidential Branch. 2nd ed. Chatham, NJ: Chatham House Publishers, 1995.

Janda, Kenneth, Jeffrey M. Berry, and Jerry Goldman. The Challenge of Democracy. 5th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.

McClenaghan, William A. Magruder's American Government 2003. Needham, MA: Prentice Hall School Group, 2002.

McDonald, Forrest. The American Presidency. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1994.

Milkis, Sidney M., and Michael Nelson. The American Presidency: Origins & Development. 3rd ed. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 1999.

Nelson, Michael, ed. The Evolving Presidency. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 1999.

Volkomer, Walter E. American Government. 8th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1998.


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