Press

Make the Cabinet More Effective

Writing for the New York Times, PPI Senior Fellow Raymond A. Smith argues for strengthening the role of the president’s cabinet.

EVERY four years the cabinet briefly becomes the focus of national attention in December and January — only to fade from view again after Inauguration Day. True, individual cabinet secretaries will be in the news from time to time, but the cabinet as an institution will be all but forgotten. Yet the United States could benefit greatly by strengthening its scope and role.

Although the cabinet is not established in the Constitution, presidents since George Washington have convened a collective body of the heads of the executive departments. Washington used these meetings to tap into the wisdom of Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. Abraham Lincoln assembled a strong “team of rivals” in his cabinet to gird the nation at its time of greatest peril. Franklin D. Roosevelt convened his cabinet the day after the Pearl Harbor attacks, while John F. Kennedy relied on a subset of his cabinet during the Cuban missile crisis.

Over the past half-century, however, the expansion of the White House staff has centralized deliberation and decision making increasingly within the confines of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. This reliance on professional staffers, political advisers and media spinmeisters within a constrictive White House “security bubble” deprives presidents not only of the deep substantive policy expertise of top civil servants but also of the political judgment of cabinet members who are often successful politicians.

Read the complete piece at the New York Times.