IntroductionThe executive branch has grown over time to meet the changing needs of the country. In this lesson, you will learn about one part of the executive branch: the Cabinet, which also are known as the executive departments.

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What are the executive departments?There are 15 executive departments that carry out much of the work of the federal government. Two thirds of the federal government"s civilian workforce is employed by the executive departments. A secretary, aided by a deputy secretary, leads each department, except the Department of Justice. The Attorney General leads this department.
The executive departments are made up of smaller units called bureaus, offices, services, or divisions. These units carry out the day-to-day work of the department. These offices are not all in Washington, D.C. They are found throughout the country wherever they are needed to serve the people. The Department of Agriculture, for example, has offices in every state to help farmers and consumers. The Food and Nutrition Service provides food stamps and maintains the school lunch program. These programs make food available to those in need.The executive departments were actually established by Congress over time. The responsibilities of each department reflect the conditions of the period and the issues that the nation faced when each department was created.
The departments vary in size. The Department of Defense is the largest. It has more than 700,000 civilian workers and more than 1.4 million men and women in uniform. The Department of Homeland Security, created in 2002, is the newest.What new departments do you think will be created in the twenty-first century?
Which smaller unit in the executive branch provides food stamps and maintains the school lunch program?
What is the Cabinet?The President has a group of advisors called the Cabinet. The Cabinet is not mentioned in the Constitution. It came about to fill a need and has grown over time. Cabinet members meet with the President as a group to make top-level decisions.The Cabinet is made up of the heads of the 15 executive departments. These department heads, or secretaries, are appointed by the President. However, the Senate must approve each appointment. Since 1789, the Senate has only rejected 12 Cabinet nominees of Presidents.
How are Cabinet members chosen?A member of the President"s Cabinet must have knowledge and experience. The Secretary of Agriculture, for example, may be a farmer or have a background in farming. The Secretary of the Treasury should have experience in the world of finance.Most of the members of the Cabinet come from the President"s party. The President selects members from all across the country. For example, the Secretary of Agriculture usually comes from the Midwest. Interest groups also influence the President"s choices.

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The President considers abilities, experience, race, and gender in selecting the heads of departments. In the past, Presidents did not consider race, ethnicity, or gender in making selections. It was not until 1933 that Frances T. Perkins became the first female Cabinet member. She was the Secretary of Labor. Robert C. Weaver was the first African American appointed to the Cabinet. He was selected by Lyndon Johnson in 1966. George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama all appointed several women and people of different cultural backgrounds to their Cabinets.
How does the process of selecting Cabinet secretaries reflect checks and balances in the government?

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