The Cabinet of the United States represents the principal leadership of the executive branch, those individuals with massive sway over both the development and implementation of national policy across every portfolio. The growth of the cabinet has been organic, with the creation of new departments as the need arose— though the growth of Cabinet departments has dropped off, the number of cabinet level officials has not; the current cabinet stands with 23 officials and 15 executive departments. The United States, however, has not consciously designed its executive cabinet; and it is high time that the United States has a Cabinet design by function, and not by the hand of the past alone.
There have been several attempts to study and reorganize the executive branch, from the Brownlow Committee of the 1930s to the Partnership for Reinventing Government of the 1990s — but in the end they have not fundamentally altered the arrangement of the Cabinet. Most presidents propose some alterations to the cabinet — President Barack Obama proposed a Department of Business at the beginning of his second term and President Donald Trump proposed a Department of Education and Workforce in the middle of his term — but most modern proposals are never implemented.
I propose a holistic approach to reforming the entire cabinet — under the principle of amalgamation up and specialization below. That we should combine cabinet executive department into wider portfolios each with several sub-cabinet executive departments. This would see the number of cabinet executive departments decreased to 10, the total number of cabinet level officers decreased to 12, but the number of sub-cabinet executive departments increased from 3 to 23.
The advantages of this system are numerous. The Cabinet will become the principal executive agents, not just a clearing house for appointees with little relationship or access to the President. However, at the same time with the increase in sub-cabinet executive departments allows for the specialization and professionalization of executive leadership and talent development. The executive branch bench would get larger, allowing more opportunities for aspirants and talent, while narrowing the distance between the Cabinet and the President. The Cabinet level officers would be responsible for the big picture, strategy, and intra/inter-agency cooperation while delegating the sausage making of implementation to a level of senior, but lower profile political appointees with stations fitting their responsibility. Likewise reducing the number of cabinet departments can allow congressional oversight responsibility to be simplified and therefore increased — no more jurisdictional bar-fights over which committee is responsible for which department. This model allows for the centralization of leadership and responsibility while also allowing implementation to specialized and professionalized. Further this model is already proven with the Department of Defense’s three service Secretaries (the Secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force).
The new Cabinet would include, in order of precedence: the Department of State, the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, the Office of National Intelligence, the Department of Commerce, Industry, and Labor, the Department of Health and Welfare, the Department of Urban and Interior Development, the Department of Education and Research, and the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. Each of these departments would be led by a single secretary (Attorney-General for DOJ and Director of National Intelligence for ONI).
However, there is one more cabinet level department and two more officers; those being the Department of the Executive, and the Chief Secretary to the President and the Vice President of the United States.
Department of the Executive (DOX):
The Department of the Executive is ironically not a cabinet executive department but a cabinet level department, DOX represents the executive themself — it is the reorganized Executive of Office of the President. DOX is the White House. It would be headed by the “Chief Secretary to the President” who for all intents and purposes is the White House Chief of Staff but raised to reality of its current station. The White House Chief of Staff is not just an assistant but the most important, and potentially the most powerful, official in the executive branch outside of the President. They are truly the Deputy-President. Thus, Chief Secretary to the President both recognizes the authority of the position and the fact that it would remain a non-Senate confirmed officer.
The Chief Secretary would be assisted by seven additional Secretaries to the President who would lead offices within DOX, they would be the Secretaries to the President: for Budget (Budget Secretary), for Strategy and Policy (Strategy Secretary), for Communications (Communications Secretary), for Legislative Affairs (Legislative Secretary), for Cabinet Affairs (Cabinet Secretary), for Research (Research Secretary), and for Administration (Administrative Secretary).
Department of State (DOS) and Department of the Treasury (DOTR):
The Department of State and the Department of the Treasury would remain the only two unitary cabinet executive departments. DOS would continue to be the foreign affairs department, along with its several domestic roles; and DOTR will continue to be the national treasury.
Department of Defense (DOD):
The Department of Defense would remain most unchanged as the nation’s civil control of the armed services and national defense infrastructure. However, there would be two revisions: reorganization of the Department of the Air Force into the Department of the Aerospace Force and the creation of the National Ordnance Board under a Secretary of Ordnance.
The Department of Aerospace Force highlights the creation of the Space Force (if it remains independent) or the reunification of the Space Force and Air Force into a joint service (if such a change occurs). The National Ordnance Board would represent a unification and centralization of national procurement policy and the creation of a senior officer tasked solely with integrating and management defense procurement and defense industry.
Department of Justice (DOJ):
The Department of Justice (DOJ) would be reorganized, and would still be led by the Attorney-General. Most functions of “Main Justice” would be retained by a core sub-Cabinet, Department of Justice (cDOJ) and a Secretary of Justice. Notably though, the Office of Legal Counsel would remain directly under the Office of the Attorney-General (OAG). Likewise, under this cDOJ would the Federal Bureau of Investigation (which would remain the nation’s primary national detective agency), a US Marshal Service (serving as the enforcement arm of the US Federal Courts), and a Federal Bureau of Enforcement (which would combine the Drug Enforcement Agency and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosive and other ancillary enforcement agencies).
DOJ would also gain control of the rump domestic security infrastructure of the defunct Department of Homeland Security under a Department of Domestic Security (DODS) — noticeably this would contain the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, the Federal Security Agency, a reformed and demilitarized US Customs Service, and a Federal Bureau of Information Security (tasked with protecting government computer networks and maintaining government information technology).
DOJ, along with DOD and ONI would have the strictest appointment requirements requires a strong resume in their respective fields and separation from partisan conduct. Likewise, these three agencies should generally, especially DOJ and ONI would be subject to the strictest scrutiny to prevent the corruption, misuse, and abuse of their statutory powers.
Office of National Intelligence (ONI):
The Office of National Intelligence would represent the resolution of the fundamental tension in the current national intelligence structure between the Director of National Intelligence’s station and responsibility with that office’s lack of power. The Office of National Intelligence would be led by the Director of National Intelligence, the office itself would have relatively little individual independent authorities outside of integration, coordination, management, and oversight. To assist the DNI and conduct national intelligence there would be a Coordinator of Strategic Services (COSS), a Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), a Director of National Security (DNS), a Director of National Cryptography (DNY), and a Director of Defense Intelligence (DDI).
The Coordinator of Strategic Services would head the Office of the National Intelligence Executives (ONIX) and would serve as the officer responsible for a constellation of disparate functions including the control of the “operational” elements of the US Intelligence Community through a combined National Operations Executive (an amalgamation of CIA’s Directorate of Operations and DIA’s Defense Clandestine Service); and would also serve as the superior to inter-agency executives like the National Counterterror Executive and National Counterintelligence Executive, etc.
The Director of Central Intelligence would be responsible for all foreign intelligence and would lead the CIA without its operational arm but a CIA that would integrate technical intelligence agencies such as the National Reconnaissance Office and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. Likewise, CIA officers would be seconded to various executive departments in place of internal intelligence agencies like the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the State Department.
The Director of National Security would be the head of a new domestic intelligence agency, the National Security Bureau, would be primarily constituted from the Intelligence and National Security branches of the Federal Bureau of Investigation integrated into an independent agency with no arrest authority. As with the CIA, NSB officers would be seconded to various executive departments in place of internal and individual intelligence agencies like Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence at the Department of Energy.
The Director of National Cryptography would lead a civilianized National Security Agency and be responsible for the nation’s cryptographic, signals, and cyber intelligence functions.
The Director of Defense Intelligence would lead the Defense Intelligence Agency and oversee the military intelligence services and be responsible for the nation’s defense and military intelligence functions.
Department of Commerce, Industry, and Labor (CIL):
The Department of Commerce, Industry, and Labor would represent an amalgamation of almost all economic functions into a single super-cabinet agency with four sub cabinet executive departments: Department of Commerce, Department of Industry, Department of Labor, and Department of Trade.
The Department of Commerce and Labor would remain relatively unchanged, instead becoming sub-cabinet executive departments. The Department of Industry would continue the non-welfare components of the defunct Department of Agriculture and would be responsible for future national industrial strategies. The Department of Trade would just be an enlarged Office of the US Trade Representative. CIL would represent a perfect opportunity to etch into the structure of government a social corporatist philosophy to reverse capital-labor tension into capital-labor cooperation.
Department of Health and Welfare (HAW):
The Department of Health and Welfare would retain all functions from the Department of Health and Human Services while also integrating the Department of Veterans Affairs and the welfare functions from the Department of Agriculture. As such HAW would have three sub-cabinet executive departments: Department of Health, Department of Welfare, and Department of Veterans.
These departments are exactly what they appear to be. The Department of Health would oversee all national health programs, including Medicaid, Medicare, Tricare, Indian Health Service, and CHIP. The Department of Welfare would oversee all of national welfare programs from SNAP to Social Security, along with the welfare functions of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Finally, the Department of Veterans would manage the nation’s VA hospital systems and veteran support, reintegration, and employment programs.
Department of Urban and Interior Development (DUID):
The Department of Urban and Interior Development would be an amalgamation of authorities and agencies across the government built on top of the Department of Housing and Urban Development with the task of investing, developing, and funding national improvements and infrastructure across all of the country. As such it would consist of the Department of Urban Development, Department of Interior Development, and Department of Transportation.
The Department of Urban Development would be responsible for reinvigorating and renewing America’s cities, especially those that have seen spiraling population over the last half century. The Department of Interior Development would be responsible for investing in rural and hinterland communities across the nation who have likewise suffered greatly. Both Departments would be empowered to creation Regional Commissions like the Appalachian Regional Commission to institutionalize streams of support for historically marginalized geographic constituencies whether they be inner cities or rural hinterlands. The Department of Transportation would not only be tasked with maintaining the nation’s transport infrastructure but linking together our nation with new investments urban-rural linkages. DUID is tasked with ensuring there are no forgotten communities in America and that America is physically united.
Department of Education and Research (DEAR):
The Department of Education and Research would retain all functions of the current Department of Education but also gain control over the National Laboratories and ARPA-E formerly under the jurisdiction of the defunct Department of Energy. As such DEAR would include two sub-cabinet executive departments, the Department of Education and the Department of Research.
The Department of Education would remain unchanged. The Department of Research would be tasked with managing a coordinated program of publicly funded national research, the National Laboratory System, and specialized agencies like the Advanced Project Agency-Energy (and potentially creating sister agencies on the same model for other areas of national concern).
Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (NARC):
Finally, the Department of National Resources and Conservative would represent an amalgamation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the resource management functions of the Department of the Interior. As such NARC would contain the Departments of National Resources and the Department of National Conservation.
The Department of National Resources would be responsible for managing federal lands (the functions of the Bureau of Land Management) and federal forests (the functions of the US Forest Service), along with the national strategic reserves of natural resources like oil amongst other related roles. The Department of National Conservation would operate as an expanded and reorganized Environmental Protection Agency, including not only the core functions of the EPA but also the National Park Service and the Civilian Climate Corps, the new initiative to rebuild the New Deal era Civilian Conservation Corps.
The Wrap Up
This plan is massive, it reorganizes nearly every cabinet executive department and fundamentally alters the structure of the American government to implement a common model of organization. It would turn the cabinet from a sprawling gaggle to a narrow, core group of primary executive agents who could all have a deep and more meaningful connection to each other and the President. The Cabinet would be a team and not an assemblage of independent operators. However, with sub-cabinet executive departments the number of opportunities for leadership would increase allowing the politicians and leaders that are appointed to those posting to develop technical and operational expertise in their portfolios. This reorganization plan would see a close-nit team at the top and specialized, professional networks below. This plan could be improved further by the creation of permanent secretaries, civil service officers to assigned to each of the sub-cabinet executive departments. Regardless, this plan would help ensure that American executive leadership is rationalized, effective, and responsible.