Election 2008

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

The Presidential Cabinet: Potential Picks for Treasury, State, Defense and Education

November 11, 2008
by Liz Colville
FindingDulcinea introduces the history of the Cabinet. We then explore the functions of four of its departments—Defense, Education, State and Treasury—and link to speculations about whom President-elect Obama might pick as secretaries of these departments.

Who’s in the Cabinet?

Traditionally, the Cabinet comprises the vice president and 15 executive department heads. Alphabetically, they are the Attorney General and the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs.

The Cabinet was “not provided for in the U.S. Constitution.” Rather, it was “developed as an advisory body out of the desire of presidents to consult on policy matters,” according to an entry on the History Channel site.

Past Presidents’ Cabinets

Find out who filled the Cabinet for each U.S. president at the Internet Public Library. Biographies are available for the past cabinet members whose names are hyperlinked.

President George W. Bush expanded his cabinet by giving “cabinet-level” roles to several more advisors in his administration: the Chief of Staff, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, the Director of National Drug Control Policy and the U.S. Trade Representative.

Links to each cabinet executive’s department Web site is available via the White House link above.

Secretary of the Treasury

While the country is in the midst of an economic downturn and projected recession, the Treasury Department will be a central focus of Obama’s administration. The secretary is likely to be an experienced official who can reach across the aisle to improve government regulation of corporations and follow through on a proposed economic stimulus package for American families.

According to Bloomberg and other sources, Obama’s leading picks are Lawrence Summers, treasury secretary under Bill Clinton, and New York Federal Reserve President Timothy Geithner, but it may be several more days before his candidate is named.

Secretary of State

The secretary of state will have a crucial role in improving and promoting U.S. diplomatic relations around the globe. The State Department currently focuses on relations between the U.S. and such nations as Afghanistan, Palestine, North Korea and Sudan. Trade agreements, poverty, disease, narcotics and refugees also fall under the State Department umbrella. The “Issues and Press” page of the department’s Web site has more information on the department’s roles.

Republican Senators Richard Lugar of Indiana and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska “figure high on Obama’s list” of potential secretaries of state, according to the Christian Science Monitor. But the article adds that if Obama keeps a Republican in the position of defense secretary, he is more likely to choose a Democrat as secretary of state. This puts Sen. John Kerry and former UN ambassador Richard Holbrooke on the list, along with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.

Secretary of Defense

The Secretary of Defense oversees the Department of Defense, which was established in 1947. He or she advises the president on defense policy and “exercises authority, direction, and control” over the department. The department itself provides “the military forces needed to deter war and protect the security of the United States.” The DoD Web site outlines all the roles and responsibilities within the DoD.

Obama’s defense secretary will oversee the entire military as well as Central Command, which monitors troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, and advise the president on troop levels and a withdrawal plan. Top contenders for the position are current Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Sen. Chuck Hagel, Colin Powell and former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig.

Secretary of Education

The Secretary of Education heads up the Department of Education, also known as ED. Established in 1980, the department sets federal financial aid policy, allocates and monitors funds, and sponsors research of the American education system. It also works on eliminating discrimination and “ensuring equal access” to education, according to its Web site.

In October, education blog Eduflack predicted that Obama’s education secretary would focus on improving and funding No Child Left Behind, Head Start and Early Head Start, teacher recruitment and retention, merit pay, dropout prevention and more. The blog also speculated that former North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt and New Leaders for New Schools founder Jon Schnur would be frontrunners for the position.

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