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Presidency of the United States

United States Cabinet Departments

Article 2, Section 2, of the Constitution calls for the president to be advised by the principal officers in each executive department, a group known collectively as the cabinet, which has grown to include 15 executive departments, each with responsibility in a range of policy areas.

The Constitution does not use the term cabinet but refers to the "executive Departments." The term was first used by James Madison in 1793 to refer to these department heads. George Washington began the custom of regularly meeting with the principal officers of each executive department. At the time, this consisted of the attorney general and the secretaries of state, the treasury, and war. The number of executive departments has increased over the years with new challenges. The cabinet has come to refer to the group of close policy advisors to the president that includes the heads of the executive departments and other top officials, such as the national security advisor and head of national intelligence.

Each executive department but one is headed by an official named a secretary; an official named the attorney general heads the Department of Justice. To fill these posts, the president nominates an individual who must be confirmed by a majority of the Senate. As first president, George Washington (1789–97) created four executive departments—State, Treasury, War, and Justice. Over time, the number has grown to 15, a reflection of the growth of federal government involvement in national life.

Responsibilities of Cabinet Departments

Department Year Created General Responsibilities
Department of State 1789 Carries out U.S. foreign policy and diplomacy, working in such areas as arms control, international security, political affairs, civilian security, and promotion of democracy
Department of the Treasury 1789 Manages the government's finances and fiscal policy
Department of Defense1 1789 Oversees the country's military and civilian forces with the goals of ensuring national security
Department of Justice 1870 Investigates and prosecutes federal crimes in the areas of antitrust, civil rights, crime, tax, and environmental protection and operates federal prisons
Department of the Interior 1849 Manages and maintains federally owned lands and natural and cultural resources within the United States
Department of Agriculture 1862 Provides leadership on food, agriculture, nutrition, national forests and grasslands, and rural development
Department of Commerce2 1913 Promotes job creation and economic growth by ensuring fair trade, promoting technological development, and providing economic data
Department of Labor2 1913 Enforces federal labor law, promotes welfare of workers, oversees working conditions and unemployment insurance, and ensures freedom from employment discrimination
Department of Health and Human Services3 1980 Fosters the health of all Americans through advances in sciences related to public health and social services; oversees Medicare and Medicaid programs
Department of Housing and Urban Development 1965 Develops and implements national policy to address America's housing needs and oversees execution of fair housing laws
Department of Transportation 1967 Oversees several organizations that focus on transportation safety and development
Department of Energy 1977 Oversees national energy policy and nuclear energy resources
Department of Education3 1979 Oversees national education policy at all levels
Department of Veterans Affairs4 1989 Provides health care services and benefits programs to veterans
Department of Homeland Security 2002 Coordinates a national strategy to protect the country against terrorism and oversees immigration, customs, and border security

1. originally founded as the Department of War in 1789; formed as the National Military Establishment in 1947; renamed as the Department of Defense and incorporating the departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force in 1949; 2. originally part of the Department of Commerce and Labor, formed in 1903; 3. originally part of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, created in 1953; 4. became part of the cabinet in 1989; originally formed in 1930