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More Information About the President’s Cabinet

Why is it Called a “Cabinet?”


President Obama Holds Cabinet Meeting At White House
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The combined secretaries of all 15 departments make up the president's Cabinet. Here are some question and answers about the Cabinet.

Why "Cabinet?"
The term "Cabinet" comes from the Italian word Cabinetto, meaning "a small, private room." A good place to discuss important business without being interrupted.

Does the Constitution provide for the Cabinet?
Not directly. Constitutional authority for the Cabinet comes from Article 2, Section 2, which says that the president "... may require the opinion, in writing, of the principal officer in each of the executive departments, upon any subject relating to the duties of their respective offices." Similarly, the Constitution does not specify which or how many executive departments should be created. Just another indication that the Constitution is a flexible, living document, well capable of governing our country without stifling its growth.

Which president first established a Cabinet?
George Washington held the first recorded meeting of a "Cabinet" in 1791.

How are the secretaries chosen?
The secretaries are appointed by the president, but must be approved by a simple majority vote of the Senate. The only qualification is that a department secretary cannot be a member of Congress or hold any other elected office.

How much are the secretaries paid?
Cabinet-level officers are currently paid $201,700 per year.

How long do the secretaries serve?
Generally, they serve as long as the president who appointed them remains in office. Executive department secretaries answer only to the president and only the president can fire them. They are expected to resign when a new president takes office, since most incoming presidents choose to replace them, anyway. Certainly not a stable career, but U.S. Secretary of State 1993-2001, would certainly look good on a resume.

When does the Cabinet meet?
There is no official schedule for Cabinet meetings, but presidents generally try to meet with their Cabinets on a weekly basis. Besides the president and department secretaries, Cabinet meetings are usually attended by the vice president, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and other top-level officials as determined by the president.

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