The U.S. cabinet was not specifically established by the Constitution; it evolved through custom and is now defined by statute law. The members of the cabinet are not members of either house of Congress and are responsible, individually and not as a body, to the president, who appoints them with the approval of the Senate and may remove them at will. The cabinet member may not address Congress but may be called as a witness before congressional committees. As an advisory body, the U.S. cabinet is generally a weak institution and is often overshadowed by a strong president and his staff. The first cabinet appointments (1789) were the secretaries of State, the Treasury, and War. Since then the size and composition of the cabinet has varied considerably. Presently the 15 executive departments whose heads sit in the cabinet are the departments of State; the Treasury; Defense; Justice; the Interior; Agriculture; Commerce; Labor; Health and Human Services; Housing and Urban Development; Transportation; Energy; Education; Veterans Affairs; and Homeland Security.
See J. E. Cohen, The Politics of the U.S. Cabinet (1988).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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