President Obama's Executive Team

The President's cabinet is composed of the most senior appointed officers of the Executive Branch of government. Cabinet officers are nominated by the President and confirmed or rejected by the Senate. A cabinet is authorized in Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution.

The Secretary of State is the highest-ranking cabinet official; this Secretary is fourth in succession to the Presidency. Cabinet officers are titular heads of the 15 permanent executive agencies of the government.
Cabinet rank members include the Vice President as well as the White House Chief of Staff, Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Management and Budget, Office of National Drug Control Policy and U.S. Trade Representative.
Learn more about the President's cabinet.

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Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack

tom vilsack
The Obama Cabinet. Getty Images

The Secretary of Agriculture is the head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which focuses on the nation's food supply and food stamp program.

Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack is the choice for secretary of agriculture in the Obama administration.

Goals of the Department of Agriculture: to meet the needs of farmers and ranchers, to promote agricultural trade and production, to assure food safety, to protect natural resources not protected by the Interior Department, to foster rural communities and to end hunger in America and abroad.

Vilsack was briefly a candidate for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination; he dropped out before the primary season and endorsed Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY). Vilsack endorsed Obama after he defeated Clinton.

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Attorney General, Eric Holder

The Obama Cabinet. Getty Images

The Attorney General is the chief law enforcement officer of the United States government and is the head of the U.S. Department of Justice.

The Attorney General is a member of the Cabinet, but the only member whose title is not "Secretary." Congress established the office of Attorney General in 1789.

Eric Holder served as Deputy Attorney General in the Clinton Administration. After graduating from Columbia Law School, Holder joined the Department of Justice Public Integrity Section from 1976 to 1988. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan appointed him Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. In 1993, he stepped down from the bench to serve as U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia.

Holder was involved in a controversial 11th-hour pardon of Marc Rich, a fugitive and Democratic contributor. He has worked as a corporate attorney since 2001.

Holder was questioned regarding implementing the Second Amendment; he joined an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in the 2008 Supreme Court review of D.C. v. Heller, urging the Court to uphold the Washington, D.C. handgun ban. The Court affirmed (5-4) the lower court ruling that the D.C. act was unconstitutional.

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Secretary of Commerce, Gary Locke

Gary Locke
The Obama Cabinet. Davis Wright Tremain

The Secretary of Commerce is the head of the U.S. Department of Commerce, which focuses on fostering economic growth and prosperity.

Former Washington state Gov. Gary Locke is reportedly President Barack Obama's third choice for Secretary of Commerce.

President Obama's second choice, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH), withdrew his name on 12 February 2009, citing "irresolvable conflicts," after the White House announced it would be co-running the Census Bureau, a significant part of the Commerce Department. Census data drives Congressional realignment every 10 years. Democrats and Republicans differ on how to count the nation's population. The statistics are instrumental in "population-driven financing formulas," which are expected to shift billions in federal spending.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was the first nominee for secretary of commerce in the Obama administration. He withdrew his name from consideration on 4 January 2009 because of an ongoing federal investigation into the possible link between political donations and a lucrative state contract. A federal grand jury is investigating CDR Financial Products, which contributed more than $110,000 to Richardson committees. Subsequently, the firm was awarded a transportation contract worth nearly $1.5 million.

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Secretary of Defense, Bob Gates

Robert Gates
The Obama Cabinet. Department of Defense

The United States Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) is the head of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), focused on armed services and the military.

On 1 December 2008, President-elect Barack Obama named sitting Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as his nominee. If confirmed, Gates will be one a handful of people to hold a Cabinet-level position under two Presidents of different parties.

Gates, the 22nd U.S. Secretary of Defense, assumed office on 18 December 2006 after bi-partisan confirmation support. Prior to assuming this position, he was the President of Texas A&M University, the nation’s seventh largest university. Gates served as Director of Central Intelligence from 1991 until 1993; he was Deputy National Security Adviser at the George H.W. Bush White House from 20 January 1989 until 6 November 1991. He is the only career officer in CIA’s history to rise from entry-level employee to Director. He is also a United States Air Force (USAF) veteran.

A native of Wichita, KS, Gates studied history at the College of William and Mary; received a master's degree in history from Indiana University; and completed a Ph.D. in Russian and Soviet history from Georgetown University. In 1996, he authored a memoir: From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insiders Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War.

The Secretary of Defense is the principal defense policy advisor to the President. By statute (10 U.S.C. § 113), the Secretary must be a civilian and must not have been an active member of the armed forces for at least 10 years. The Secretary of Defense is sixth in the presidential line of succession.

The Secretary of Defense is a post-World War II position, created in 1947 when the Navy, Army and Air Force were merged into the National Military Establishment. In 1949, the National Military Establishment was renamed the Department of Defense.

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Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan

Arne Duncan
The Obama Cabinet. Brightcove Screen Capture

The Secretary of Education is the head of the Department of Education, the smallest cabinet-level department.

In 2001, Mayor Richard Daley appointed Duncan as Chief Executive Officer of the nation's third-largest school system with 600 schools that serve over 400,000 students with 24,000 teachers and a budget of more than $5 billion. He is a Hyde Park native and Harvard College graduate.

His appointment came on the heels of the Annenberg Challenge and K-12 Reform (1996-97 through 2000-01).

He faces the challenges resulting from No Child Left Behind.

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Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu

Steven Chu
The Obama Cabinet. Change.Gov Photo

The Secretary of Energy cabinet position was created with the formation of the Department of Energy on 1 October 1977 by President Jimmy Carter.

Steven Chu is an experimental physicist. He has headed the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and was a professor at Stanford University. While at Bell Labs, he won the Nobel Prize in Physics.

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Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa P. Jackson

Lisa Jackson
The Obama Cabinet. Getty Images

The Administrator of the EPA oversees regulation of chemicals and protects human health by safeguarding the natural environment: air, water, and land.

President Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency, which began operation in 1970. The EPA is not a cabinet-level agency (Congress refuses to elevate its statute) but most presidents seat the EPA Administrator at the cabinet.

Lisa P. Jackson is the former Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP); prior to that position, she worked at USEPA for 16 years.

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Secretary of Health and Human Services

question mark
The Obama Cabinet.

The Secretary of Health and Human Services is the head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, concerned with health matters.

UPDATE: Tom Daschle withdrew on 3 February; Obama has not announced a replacement.

In 1979, the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare was split into two agencies: the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education.

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Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano

Janet Napolitano
The Obama Cabinet. Getty Images

The Secretary of Homeland Security is the head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the agency charged with protecting the safety of American citizens.

The Department of Homeland Security was created after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano heads the Department of Homeland Security. She is the third person to assume this office. From Deborah White:

Janet Napolitano, a pro-business, pro-choice centrist Democrat, was elected as Arizona Governor in 2002 and reelected in 2006... In November 2005, Time magazine named her one of the top five U.S. governors... To combat illegal immigration, the governor has opted to: crackdown on employers who hire undocumented workers; catch forgers of I.D. documents; push for more Homeland Security measures to deter border crossings.

Traditionally, and by statute, the order of the presidential line of succession is determined (after the Vice President, Speaker of the House, and President pro tempore of the Senate) by the order of the creation of the cabinet positions. On 9 March 2006, President Bush signed H.R. 3199, which both renewed the Patriot Act and amended the Presidential Succession Act to move the Secretary of Homeland Security into the line of succession after the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (§ 503).

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Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Shaun Donovan

Shaun Donovan
The Obama Cabinet. NYC Photo

The U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development runs HUD, which was founded in 1965 to develop and execute federal policy on urban housing.

President Lyndon B. Johnson created the agency. There have been 14 HUD secretaries.

Shaun Donovan is Barack Obama's choice for HUD secretary. In 2004, he became Commissioner of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). During the Clinton administration and the transition to the Bush administration, Donovan was Deputy Assistant Secretary for Multifamily Housing at HUD.

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Secretary of Interior, Ken Salazar

The Obama Cabinet. U.S. Senate

The Secretary of Interior is the head of the U.S. Department of the Interior, which focuses on our natural resources policy.

Freshman Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO) is Obama's choice for secretary of Interior in the Obama administration.

Salazar was elected to the Senate in 2004, the same year as Barack Obama. Prior to that, he served in the House. A farmer who hails from a long line of farmers and ranchers, Salazar is also an attorney. He practiced water and environmental law in the private sector for 11 years.

Salazar will have his hands full. In September 2008, we learned about Sex, Oil and a Culture of Privilege, a scandal involving the Minerals Management Service's royalty collection office.

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Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis

Hilda Solis
The Obama Cabinet.

The Secretary of Labor enforces and recommends laws involving unions and the workplace.

The Department of Labor administers federal labor laws, including those related to minimum hourly wage and overtime pay; freedom from employment discrimination; unemployment insurance; and a safe and healthful working conditions.

Barak Obama selected Rep. Hilda Solis (D-CA) as his secretary of labor. She was elected to Congress in 2000. She worked briefly in the Carter and Reagan Administrations and served six years in the California legislature.

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Director, Office of Management and Budget, Peter R. Orszag

Peter R. Orszag
The Obama Cabinet. Congressional Budget Office Photo

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), a Cabinet-level office, is the largest office within the Executive Office of the President of the United States.

The OMB Director oversees the President's "Management Agenda" and reviews agency regulations. The OMD Director develops the President's annual budget request. Although this is not technically a Cabinet-level position, the OBM director is confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

President Obama selected Congressional Budget Office chief Peter R. Orszag to be his OMB director.

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Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton
The Obama Cabinet. Getty Images

The Secretary of State is the head of the U.S. Department of State, which focuses on foreign affairs.

The Secretary of State is the highest-ranking cabinet official, both in line of succession and order of precedence.

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) is the nominee for the Secretary of State cabinet position. From Deborah White:

Sen. Clinton was elected to the Senate in 2000 and reelected in 2006 after serving as First Lady during her husband's two terms as President and 12 years as Arkansas governor. She was an '08 candidate for the Democratic nomination for the presidency... Mrs. Clinton was an activist First Lady, staunchly supporting children's issues, womens' rights and universal health care for all Americans.
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Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood

Ray LaHood
The Obama Cabinet.

The United States Secretary of Transportation oversees federal policy on transportation -- air, land, and sea.

There have been 15 Secretaries of Transportation since Lyndon B. Johnson carved the agency out of the Department of Commerce in 1966. Elizabeth Hanford Dole is one of the better-known Secretaries, having served as a Senator from North Carolina; she is also the wife of Republican Senator and presidential candidate Robert Dole.

Rep. Ray LaHood (R-IL-18) may be best-known for presiding over the House of Representatives impeachment vote against President Bill Clinton. He is the 16th Transportation chief.

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Secretary of the Treasury, Timothy Geithner

Timothy Geithner
The Obama Cabinet. Getty Images

The Secretary of the Treasury is the head of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, concerned with finance and monetary matters.

This position is analogous to the finance ministers of other nations. Treasury was one of the first cabinet-level agencies; its first secretary was Alexander Hamilton.

Timothy F. Geithner is Obama's choice to head Treasury.

Geithner became the ninth president and chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York on 17 November 2003. He has worked in three administrations and for five Secretaries of the Treasury in a variety of positions. He served as Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs from 1999 to 2001 under Secretaries Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers.

Geithner serves as chairman of the G-10’s Committee on Payment and Settlement Systems of the Bank for International Settlements. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Group of Thirty.

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U.S. Trade Representative, Ron Kirk

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk
The Obama Cabinet. Getty Images

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative recommends trade policy to the President, conducts trade negotiations and coordinates federal trade policy.

The Office of the Special Trade Representative (STR) was created by the Trade Expansion Act of 1962; the USTR is part of the Executive Office of the President. The head of the office, known as an ambassador, is not cabinet-rank but is cabinet-level. There have been 15 trade representatives.

Barack Obama picked Ron Kirk, mayor of Dallas, TX, as his trade representative. Kirk was Secretary of State of Texas in the Ann Richards administration.

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United Nations Ambassador, Susan Rice

Susan Rice
The Obama Cabinet. Getty Images

The Ambassador to the United Nations leads the U.S. delegation and represents the U.S. on the U.N. Security Council and at all General Assembly meetings.

Susan Rice is Barack Obama's choice for United Nations Ambassador; he plans to reinstate the Ambassador as a cabinet-rank position. During President Bill Clinton's second term, Rice served on the staff of the National Security Council and as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.

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Secretary of Veterans Affairs

General Eric Shinseki
The Obama Cabinet.

The Secretary of Veterans' Affairs is the head of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the department charged with managing veteran benefits.

The first Secretary of Veteran's Affairs was Edward Derwinski, who assumed the office in 1989. To date, all six appointees and four acting appointees have been United States military veterans, but that is not a requirement.

Obama's choice for this post is General Eric Shinseki; previously, he served as the 34th Chief of Staff of the Army.

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White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel

Rahm Emanuel
The Obama Cabinet. Getty Images

The White House Chief of Staff (cabinet-rank) is the second highest-ranking member of the Executive Office of the President of the United States.

Duties vary between Administrations, but the chief of staff has been responsible for overseeing the White House staff, managing the president's schedule, and deciding who is allowed to meet with the president. Harry Truman had the first Chief of Staff, John Steelman (1946-1952).

Rahm Emanuel is the White House Chief of Staff. Emanuel has served in the House of Representatives since 2003, representing Illinois's 5th congressional district. He is the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House, behind Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Leader Steny Hoyer, and Whip Jim Clyburn. He is friends with fellow Chicagoan David Axelrod, the chief strategist for the 2008 Barack Obama presidential campaign. He is also friends with former President Bill Clinton.

Emanuel directed the finance committee for then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton's presidential primary campaign. He was a senior advisor to Clinton at the White House from 1993 to 1998, serving as Assistant to the President for Political Affairs and then Senior Advisor to the President for Policy and Strategy. He was a leading strategist in the unsuccessful universal healthcare initiative. He has advocated a three-month compulsory universal service program for Americans between the ages of 18 and 25.

After leaving the White House, Emanuel worked as an investment banker from 1998-2002, making $16.2 million in two-and-a-half-years as a banker. In 2000, Clinton appointed Emanuel to the Board of Directors for the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation ("Freddie Mac"). He resigned in 2001 to run for Congress.

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Gill, Kathy. "President Obama's Executive Team." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Gill, Kathy. (2020, August 26). President Obama's Executive Team. Retrieved from Gill, Kathy. "President Obama's Executive Team." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 5, 2023).