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The executive branch of the Government is responsible for enforcing the laws of the land. When George Washington was president, people recognized that one person could not carry out the duties of the President without advice and assistance. The Vice President, department heads (Cabinet members), and heads of independent agencies assist in this capacity. Unlike the powers of the President, their responsibilities are not defined in the Constitution but each has special powers and functions.

  • President: Leader of the country and Commander in Chief of the military
  • Vice President: President of the Senate and becomes President if the President is unable to serve.
  • Departments: Department heads advise the President on policy issues and help execute those policies.
  • Independent Agencies: Help execute policy or provide special services

The President of the United States

The President is the Head of the Executive Branch and generally viewed as the head of the U.S. Government. While he does have significant power, his power is limited by the Constitution. Specifically, the Constitution assigns the following powers to the President.

  • Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces
  • Make treaties, with two-thirds consent of the Senate
  • Receive ambassadors and other public ministers from foreign countries
  • Appoint ambassadors, Supreme Court Justices, Federal Judges, and any officials as provided for by the Congress, with the approval of the Senate.
  • Give an annual State of the Union Address to Congress
  • Recommend legislation to Congress
  • Convene Congress on extraordinary occasions
  • Adjourn Congress, in cases of a disagreement about adjournment
  • "Take care that the laws be faithfully executed"
  • Fill in administrative vacancies during Congressional recesses
  • Grant reprieves and pardons for offences against the U.S.

As Head of State, the President meets with the leaders of other countries. He has the power to recognize those lands as official countries and to make treaties with them. However, the Senate must approve any treaty before it becomes official. The President also has the power to appoint ambassadors to other countries, with the Senate's approval.

The President is also the official head of the U.S. military. As Commander in Chief, he can authorize the use of troops overseas without declaring war. To declare war officially, though, he must get the approval of the Congress.

The President's administrative duties include appointing the heads of each Executive Branch department. Of course, these appointments are subject to the approval of the Senate. The President also has the power to request the written opinion of the head of each Executive Branch department, regarding any subject relating to their department.

  "Hail to the Chief"  

The Office of the President

  The President has his personal staff within the White House this would normally be composed of his closest and most trusted advisors.


The President's Legislative Powers

Most people view the President as the most powerful and influential person in the United States government. While he does wield a great deal of political might, his effect on the law-making process is limited. Only Congress can write legislation, the President may only recommend it. If he does so, then a member of Congress may introduce the bill for consideration.

Whereas only Congress may create legislation, it is difficult for them to pass a bill without the President's approval. When Congress passes a bill, they send it to the White House. The President then has three options: sign the bill into law, veto the bill, or do nothing.

When the President signs a bill into law, it immediately goes into effect. At this point, only the Supreme Court can remove the law from the books by declaring it unconstitutional.

When the President vetoes a bill, it does not go into effect. The President vetoes a bill by returning it to Congress unsigned in most cases, he will also send them an explanation of why he ejected the legislation. Congress can override a presidential veto, but to do so, two-thirds of each chamber must vote in favor of the bill. However, an override does not occur very often.

If the President chooses the third option, doing nothing with the bill, one of two things will occur. If Congress is in session ten business days after the President received the bill, the legislation will become a law without the President's signature. However, if Congress adjourns within ten business days of giving the bill to the President, the bill dies. When the President kills a bill in this fashion, it is known as a pocket veto. In this case, Congress can do nothing to override his decision.

The Presidential veto is an extremely powerful too. Often, to get Congress to reconsider legislation the President need only threaten to veto a bill if it passes.

However, this power has its limitations. The President may only veto a bill in its entirety; he does not have the power of a line-item veto, which would allow him to strike individual sections of a bill while still passing it. Because of this limitation, the President must often compromise if Congress passes a bill that he agrees with, abut attaches a rider that goes against his policy.

Compromise, in general, is a crucial aspect to a President's success in working with Congress. The President's political party vary rarely also controls Congress. Therefore, the President must work with Senators and Representatives who disagree with his agenda. However, if the President refused to pass any legislation that he disagreed with and Congress behaved similarly, the government would come to a halt. Thus, they must work together to keep the government moving.

In addition, the President relies on the support of the American people to accomplish his goals. The public elects the President and the members of Congress. When the public disapproves of the President, Senators and Representatives will distance themselves with the President and his agenda. If they side with an unpopular President, their constituents might not re-elect them. Thus, if the President loses popular support, he will lose support in Congress and will be unable to get any of his suggested legislation enacted.

Order of Succession

According to the Presidential Succession Act of 1947, if the President of the United States is incapacitated, dies, resigns is for any reason unable to hold his office, or is removed from office (impeached or convicted), people in the following office, in this order, will assume the office of the President, provided they are qualified as stated by the Constitution to assume the office of the President, which means they must be at least 35 years old, must be a natural-born U.S. citizen, and have lived in the U.S. for at least 14 years.

  • Vice President
  • Speaker of the House
  • President Pro Tempore of the Senate
  • Secretary of State
  • Secretary of the Treasury
  • Secretary of Defense
  • Attorney General
  • Secretary of the Interior
  • Secretary of Agriculture
  • Secretary of Commerce
  • Secretary of Labor
  • Secretary of Health and Human Services
  • Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
  • Secretary of Transportation
  • Secretary of Energy
  • Secretary of Education
  • Secretary of Veterans Affairs
  • Secretary of Homeland Security

The 25 th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, passed in 1967, provides for procedures to fill vacancies in the Vice Presidency; further clarifies presidential succession rules.

Requirements and Term

The President and the Vice-President are the only officials elected by the entire country. When elected, the President serves a term of four years. At most, a President may serve two terms.

The President can be removed from office through the process of impeachment. If the House of Representatives feel that the President has committed acts of "Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors" they can impeach him with a majority vote. An impeachment is very similar to a legal indictment. It is not a conviction, however, and not enough to remove the President from office alone.

The case then goes to the Senate. Overseen by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Senate reviews the case and votes whether or not to convict the President. If they vote in favor of conviction by a two-thirds margin, then the President is removed from office.

The President's Budget

Each year, the Federal Government spends trillions of dollars to carry out its responsibilities. It is a long and complicated process that begins with the creation and submission to Congress of the President's proposed spending plan for the Federal Government in the coming fiscal year. The documents containing the President's plan is known as the Budget of the U.S. Government.

The President's Budget is basically a series of goals with price tags attached. It allows the President to provide a suggested spending framework to Congress for use in deciding (1) how much money to spend, (2) what to spend it on, and (3)

How to raise the money they have decided to spend. According to the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921, the President must annually submit a budget to Congress by the first Monday in February. In addition to the proposed spending plan, the President's Budget must show:

  • The condition of the Treasury at the end of the lat completed fiscal year.
  • The estimated condition of the Treasury at the end of the current fiscal year.
  • The estimated condition of the Treasury at the end of the next fiscal year if the budget proposals are carried out.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) assist the President in the creation of the President's Budget by gathering data from agencies and compiling it into the final plan to be approved by the President. As part of this process, OMB also studies Government services in detail and then recommends changes to the President intended to increase the economy and efficiency of Government operations.

The Process of creating the President's Budget starts about a year before it is due to be submitted to Congress. It begins with the development of the President's overall budget strategy in the spring and by summer Federal agencies submit their budget estimates based on that strategy. During the fall, the estimates provided by the agencies are reviewed by the OMB and by the winter, the President's budget is reviewed, finalized, and submitted to Congress as required.

Congress and the Budget

According to the Constitution, all Federal appropriations must be authorized by Congress. This is a source of great power for Congress known as the "power of the purse". Once the President's Budget is received by Congress, the House of Representatives works to create a budget resolution, which sets the base line level of spending for the Federal Government as required by the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974. Once this bottom line is established, Congress acts to decide how this level of funding will be dispersed among Federal activities.

The President's Cabinet

The purpose of the Cabinet is to advise the President on matters relating to the duties of their respective offices. As the President's closest and most trusted advisors, members of the Cabinet attend weekly meetings with the President. The Constitution does not directly mention a "Cabinet," but the Constitutional authority for a Cabinet is found in Article II, Section 2. The Constitution states that the President "may require the opinion, in writing of the principle officer in each executive departments, upon any subject relating to the duties of their respective offices." The Constitution does not say which or how many executive departments should be created.

Who makes up the Cabinet?

The Cabinet traditionally includes the Vice President, and the heads of 15 executive departments-the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs, and the Attorney General. Cabinet-level rank has also been given to the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; the Director of Office Management and Budget; the Director of the National Drug Control Policy; the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security; and the U.S. Trade Representative.

When requested by the President, other officials are asked to attend these weekly meetings including, the President's Chief of Staff, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, the Counselor to the President, the Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Administrator of the Small Business Administration, and the U.S. Representative to the United Nations.

How does one become a member of the Cabinet?

The 15 Secretaries from the executive departments are appointed by the President, and they must be confirmed by a majority vote (51) of the Senate. They cannot be a member of Congress or hold any other elected office. Cabinet appointments are for the duration of the administration, but the President may dismiss any member at any time, without approval of the Senate. In addition, they are expected to resign when a new President takes office.

The following is a list of the current heads of the 15 executive department agencies, their department, when that department was created, and a brief description of the department from the United States Government Manual on GPO Access. Clicking on the name of the department will take you to that department's Web site.


Cabinet Rank Members:

The Vice President
Richard B. Cheney

White House
Chief of Staff

Joshua B. Bolten

Office of Management
and Budget

Rob Portman

United States Trade Representative
Ambassador Susan Schwab

Environmental Protection Agency
Stephen Johnson

Office of National
Drug Control Policy

John Walters