The President-elect’s Cabinet appointments have dominated the news cycle, which only begs the question: What do these departments and offices actually do?
The Cabinet is included in the Constitution, under Article II, Section 2, where it states:
“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.”
The Cabinet consists of the heads of departments of government and essentially advise the president on policy and programs. Each executive, given the title “Secretary” (except for the attorney general, who heads the Department of Justice), is appointed by the president, then confirmed by the Senate.
The vice president is occasionally included in Cabinet talks, as the VP has the opportunity to be the top adviser to the president. Additionally, there are a number of positions outside the typical fifteen Cabinet positions. The positions that require affirmation by the Senate are referred to as “Cabinet-level.” The remaining positions do not have Cabinet-rank, though they still run important government agencies and advise the president. These extra positions will not be included in the below breakdown.
So what are these fifteen positions and departments?
Department of State
Trump’s Pick: Rex W. Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil
The secretary of state strategizes, implements, and advises the president’s foreign policy, and aims to advance freedom and security nationally. The sec. of state oversees 30,000 employees and an approximate budget of about $50 billion.
Along with their department, the secretary of state represents the United States abroad, coordinates foreign assistance and military programs, counters international crime, and provides services to U.S. citizens and foreign nationals seeking entrance to the U.S.
The State Department’s mission is to “shape and sustain a peaceful, prosperous, just, and democratic world and foster conditions for stability and progress for the benefit of the American people and people everywhere.”
Through U.S. Foreign Service employees, the U.S. maintains diplomatic relations with approximately 180 countries, and international organizations.
Department of Treasury
Trump’s Pick: Steven Mnuchin, former investment banker and hedge fund manager
The Treasury secretary develops and implements policy and programs to ensure economic prosperity, soundness, and security of national and international financial systems. They oversee 100,000 employees and an approximate budget of $14 billion.
The department operates and maintains systems key to the nation’s financial infrastructure, including the IRS / tax collection, production of currency, disbursing payments to the American public, and borrowing funds to run the federal government.
Through coordination with other federal agencies and international financial institutions, the department encourages global economic growth, raises standards of living, and attempts to predict and prevent economic and financial crises. Additionally, the Department of Treasury improves safeguards on U.S. financial systems, implements economic sanctions against foreign threats, and identifies and targets financial support networks of security threats.
Department of Defense
Trump’s Pick: General James N. Mattis (retired)
The secretary of Defense leads the largest government agency, with more than 1.3 million active duty military and nearly 700,000 civilian staff, in addition to 1.1 million citizens in the National Guard and Reserve forces.
The Department of Defense, commonly referred to as the “DOD,” provides the military forces to deter war and provide security for the nation, and is headquartered at the Pentagon in Arlington, VA. The DOD includes the Army, Navy, the Air Force, as well as Joint Chiefs of Staff, Pentagon Force Protection Agency, National Security Agency, and the Defense Intelligence Agency. The military and civilian arms of the DOD fight wars, provide humanitarian aid, perform peacekeeping, and provide relief services.
Department of Justice
Trump’s Pick: U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.)
The attorney general is the chief law enforcement officer of the Department of Justice. They manage a budget of approximately $29 billion.
The attorney general enforces the law and defends U.S. interests, ensuring public safety, preventing and controlling crime, seeking just punishment for the guilty, and ensuring fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans.
The Department of Justice, referred to as the “DOJ,” is comprised of 40 organizations. It includes the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Marshals, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The attorney general represents the United States in legal matters, advises the president and heads of departments, and occasionally appears before the Supreme Court.
Department of the Interior
Trump’s Pick: U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Montana)
The secretary of Interior is responsible for protecting and providing access to America’s natural and cultural heritage, and honoring our trust responsibilities to Native American Tribes and island communities. The secretary oversees about 70,000 staff, 200,000 volunteers, and a budget of $13.4 billion. Each year the department raises revenue from energy, mineral, grazing, and timber leases, in addition to recreational permits and land sales.
The Department of Interior (DOI) manages 500 acres of surface land, which is one-fifth of the land in the United States. The department is the principal conservation agency, and its mission is to protect America’s natural resources, create recreation opportunities, conduct scientific research, conserve and protect fish and wildlife, and honor responsibilities to American Indians, Alaskan Natives, and to island communities.
There are hundreds of dams and reservoirs, as well as Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Minerals Management Service, and the U.S. Geological Survey under its purview as well.
Department of Agriculture
Trump’s Pick: Unknown
The secretary of Agriculture leads the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which regulates farming, agriculture and food. The secretary oversees more than 100,000 employees and an approximate budget of $155 billion.
The department develops and executes policy on farming, food, natural resources, food safety, and world hunger. It operates with the mission of meeting farmer and rancher needs, promoting agricultural trade and production, securing food safety, protecting natural resources, fostering rural communities, and ending hunger nationally and internationally.
Much of the Department’s budget is allocated to programs that provide services such as nutrition assistance, promoting agricultural exports, and conserving our environment. The USDA also provides surplus foods to developing countries.
The Department is comprised of 17 agencies, which includes Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the Food and Nutrition Service, and the Forest Service.
Department of Commerce
Trump’s Pick: Wilbur Ross, Investor, WL Ross and Co. LLC
The secretary of Commerce is responsible for improving living standards for all Americans through economic development and technological innovation. The secretary oversees about 38,000 employees and a $9.7 billion budget.
The department formulates telecommunications and technology policy, and assists and enforces international trade agreements to promote U.S. exports. It also supports business and industry through a number of programs, such as gathering economic and demographic data, issuing patents and trademarks, providing education on the environment and oceanic life, as well as ensuring effective use of scientific and environmental resources.
Department of Labor
Trump’s Pick: Andrew F. Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants (Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.)
The secretary of Labor manages programs that aim to ensure a strong American workforce through work safety, fair pay and unemployment insurance benefits. The secretary oversees 15,000 employees and an annual budget of approximately $12.8 billion.
The Department of Labor’s mission is to promote the welfare of job seekers, wage earners, and retirees in the U.S. through improving work conditions, advancing opportunities for profitable employment, protect retirement and health care benefits, assisting employers find workers, and strengthening free collective bargaining. The department also tracks changes in employment, prices, and various national economic metrics.
It includes the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is the federal government’s principal statistics agency for labor economics. Additionally, O.S.H.A., the Occupational Safety & Health Administration is under the Department of Labor. O.S.H.A. promotes the safety and health of America’s working men and women through training and regulation.
Department of Health and Human Services
Trump’s Pick: U.S. Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.)
The Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) mission is the protect the health of Americans and provide services essential to life. The HHS secretary manages approximately 65,000 employees and a budget of over $1 trillion — over 90% is mandatory spending.
The department’s various programs are operated by eleven divisions, including eight U.S. public Health Service agencies and five human services agencies. The HHS conducts health and social science research, works to prevent disease outbreaks, establishes food and drug safety, and provides health insurance. The department administers Medicare and Medicaid, which provide health insurance to one in four Americans. It also oversees the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control.
Department of Housing and Urban Development
Trump’s Pick: Dr. Ben Carson, former neurosurgeon and Republican presidential candidate
The secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is responsible for national policies and programs for addressing the United States’ housing needs, improving and developing communities, and enforcing fair housing laws. The Housing secretary oversees about 9,000 employees and a budget of approximately $60 billion in mandatory and discretionary funding.
HUD provides mortgage insurance and rent subsidy programs that support homeownership for lower- and moderate-income families. Goals include increasing home ownership, supporting community development, and increasing affordable housing.
HUD also administers public housing and homeless assistance. HUD includes a number of agencies: the Federal Housing Administration provides mortgage and loan insurance; the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity ensures all U.S. citizens equal access to housing; and the Community Development Block Grant Program assists communities with economic development, job opportunities, and housing rehabilitation.
Department of Transportation
Trump’s Pick: Elaine Chao, former Labor Secretary under President George W. Bush and Transportation Secretary under President George H.W. Bush.
The secretary of Transportation is responsible for ensuring transportation systems that meet our national interests and enhance the quality of American life. Transportation systems aim to be fast, safe, efficient, accessible, and convenient. The Transportation secretary oversees around 55,000 employees and a budget of about $98 billion.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) includes the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Federal Transit Administration, the Federal Railroad Administration, and the Maritime Administration.
Department of Energy
Trump’s Pick: Rick Perry, former three-term Governor of Texas
The secretary of Energy is responsible for advancing the national energy security of the United States, as well as promoting innovation. The Energy secretary oversees about 100,000 federal and contract employees, and a budget of approximately $33 billion.
The Department of Energy (DOE) promotes the security of U.S. energy. This is done through developing reliable, clean, and affordable energy. Funding is provided for scientific research aimed at discovery and innovation, in order to ensure America’s economic competitiveness and increasing the quality of life in the U.S. The DOE also ensures America’s nuclear security.
Department of Education
Trump’s Pick: Betsy DeVos, businesswoman and education activist
The secretary of Education is tasked with promoting educational excellence, student preparation for a global economy, and ensuring equal access to educational opportunities. The department establishes policies on federal financial aid for education as well. The Education secretary oversees 4,200 employees and a $71 billion budget.
The department encompasses programs which provide federal financial aid for education, and work with state and local governments, parents, and students to achieve educational excellence. Additionally, it collects data on America’s schools to guide and improve education quality.
Department of Veteran Affairs
Trump’s Pick: Unknown
The secretary of Veterans Affairs is responsible for creating and enacting policy and programs to benefit veterans, their families, and their survivors. The VA secretary oversees about 235,000 employees and a budget of approximately $182 billion.
The VA provides benefits such as pension, education, disability compensation, home loans, life insurance, vocational rehabilitation, survivor support, medical care, and burial benefits.
Department of Homeland Security
Trump’s Pick: General John F. Kelly (retired)
The secretary of Homeland Security is responsible for providing the American people protection from terrorist attacks, through prevention, disruption, and assuring the security of the U.S.’s critical infrastructure and key resources. Furthermore, DHS also responds to and provides recovery assistance for incidents that do occur.
Policy is created through the Homeland Security Council at the White House, along with other defense and intelligence agencies.
The DHS secretary employs 216,000 people to patrol borders, enforce immigration laws, and respond to disasters and emergencies. DHS promotes preparedness and emergency prevention among citizens as well.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was established by the Homeland Security Act of 2002 as a response to September 11, 2001, and is the third largest Cabinet department. DHS includes 22 agencies, such as the U.S. Customs Service, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Secret Service, the Transportation Security Administration, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.