Study Guide

The Cabinet and Executive Agencies

The Cabinet and Executive Agencies

  • Presidents oversee huge federal bureaucracy
  • Power is delegated to cabinet officials, who oversee executive departments and agencies
The presidency grew dramatically during the twentieth century. The complexities of the modern world have imposed more and more demands on the federal government, many of which have been better suited to the executive than the legislative branch. And the modern media has given the president a decided advantage in building public support for his political objectives.

But that does not mean that the president works alone. The federal bureaucracy has grown right alongside the presidency itself; the network of departments and agencies that now make up the executive branch has expanded to keep pace with the growing demands placed on the president.

The highest-ranking of the offices assisting the president are the executive departments. When George Washington formed his administration, he had only four departments (Treasury, War, Justice, and State), and thus only four members in his cabinet (the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of War, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of State). But the executive branch, and thus the president's cabinet, has grown over time. There are now fifteen executive departments: Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Justice, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs.

In addition to these executive departments, there are numerous executive agencies. Many of these are hugely important, and their heads are tremendously powerful. Four, in fact, have been recently designated cabinet-level appointees (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).

There is also a series of special independent agencies. On a few occasions, Congress, anxious to address some issue, but concerned that future presidents might manipulate the legislation or agency that they have created, has succeeded in legislating agencies that are partially shielded from executive interference. The Environmental Protection Agency, for example, is part of the executive branch, but it is also somewhat independent of the usual executive control.