Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge just started his new job as director of the Office of Homeland Security. If Ridge has "Cabinet status," as President Bush says, why didn't his appointment need to be confirmed by the Senate?
By law, the official Cabinet consists of the heads (called secretaries) of 14 departments: Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veteran's Affairs. State is the oldest, and Veterans' Affairs is the newest. Each one of these departments was created by statute, and every Cabinet member must be approved by the Senate. Ridge, obviously, is not one of those 14 secretaries. The Office of Homeland Security was created not by legislation but by executive order. Ridge is part of the White House staff.
But the president can give honorary "Cabinet status" to whomever he wishes. These members don't have the statutory powers of a Cabinet secretary, but they get to sit in on Cabinet meetings, and presumably they have the ear of the president. In President Clinton's second term, for example, he stocked his Cabinet with honorary members, including the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. representative to the United Nations, the administrator of the Small Business Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency director, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, and the White House chief of staff. Early in his administration, Bush gave Cabinet status to EPA Director Christine Todd Whitman, Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels, and U.S. trade representative Robert Zoellick.
Presidential appointments, such as the U.S. trade representative, that Congress deems to be at "executive level one" of the presidential appointee system require Senate confirmation. Legislation has already been introduced to require confirmation of the homeland security director (and also to give the position more authority over the counterterrorism budget). Both Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., and Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the chairman and ranking member of the Senate intelligence committee, support the bill.
Click here to read a Cabinet FAQ.
Explainer thanks Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution.