CONSTRAINTS ON PRESIDENTIAL POWER
Because of the vast array of presidential roles and responsibilities, coupled with a conspicuous presence on the national and international scene, political analysts have tended to place great emphasis on the president's powers. Some have even spoken of the "the imperial presidency," referring to the expanded role of the office that Franklin D. Roosevelt maintained during his term.
One of the first sobering realities a new president discovers is an inherited bureaucratic structure which is difficult to manage and slow to change direction. Power to appoint ex- ' tends only to some 3,000 people out of a civilian government ' work force of more than three million, most of whom are protected in their jobs by Civil Service regulations.
The president finds that the machinery of government operates pretty much independently of presidential interventions, has done so through earlier administrations, and will continue to do so in the future. New presidents are immediately confronted with a backlog of decisions from the outgoing administration on issues that are often complex and unfamiliar. They inherit a budget formulated and enacted into law long before they came to office, as well as major spending programs (such as veterans' benefits. Social Security payments and Medicare for the elderly), which are mandated by law and not subject to influence. In foreign affairs, presidents must conform with treaties and informal agreements negotiated by their predecessors.
The happy euphoria of the post-election "honeymoon" quickly dissipates, and the new president discovers that Congress has become less cooperative and the media more critical. The president is forced to build at least temporary alliances among diverse, often antagonistic interests—economic, geographic, ethnic and ideological. Compromises with Congress must be struck if any legislation is to be adopted. "It is very easy to defeat a bill in Congress," lamented President John F. Kennedy. "It is much more difficult to pass one."
Despite these burdensome constraints, few presidents have turned down the chance to run for a second term of office. Every president achieves at least some of his legislative goals and prevents by veto the enactment of other laws he believes not to be in the nation's best interests. The president's authority in the conduct of war and peace, including the negotiation of treaties, is substantial. Moreover, the president can use his unique position to articulate ideas and advocate policies, which then have a better chance of entering the public consciousness than those held by his political rivals. When a president raises an issue, it inevitably becomes subject to public debate. A president's power and influence may be limited, but they are also greater than those of any other American, in or out of office.
THE EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENTS
The day-to-day enforcement and administration of federal laws is in the hands of the various executive departments, created by Congress to deal with specific areas of national and international affairs. The heads of the departments, chosen by the president and approved by the Senate, form a council of advisers generally known as the president's "Cabinet." In addition to 14 departments, there are a number of staff organizations grouped into the Executive Office of the President. These include the White House staff, the National Security Council, the Office of Management and Budget, the Council of Economic Advisers, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, and the Office of Science and Technology.
The Constitution makes no provision for a presidential Cabinet. It does provide that the president may ask opinions, in writing, from the principal officer in each of the executive departments on any subject in their area of responsibility, but it does not name the departments nor describe their duties. Similarly, there are no specific constitutional qualifications for service in the Cabinet.
The Cabinet developed outside the Constitution as a matter of practical necessity, for even in George Washington's day it was an absolute impossibility for the president to discharge his duties without advice and assistance. Cabinets are what any particular president makes them. Some presidents have relied heavily on them for advice, others lightly, and some few have largely ignored them. Whether or not Cabinet members act as advisers, they retain the responsibility for directing the activities of the government in specific areas of concern.
Each department has thousands of employees, with offices throughout the country as well as in Washington. The departments are divided into divisions, bureaus, offices and services, each with specific duties.
(All departments are headed by a secretary, except the Justice Department, which is headed by the attorney general.)
THE DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE:
Created in 1862
THE DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE:
Created in 1903. The Department of Commerce and Labor split into two separate departments in 1913.
THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE:
Amalgamated in 1947. The Department of Defense was established by combining, the Department of War (established in 1789), the Department of the Navy (established in 1798) and the Department of the Air Force (established in 1947). Although the secretary of defense is a member of the Cabinet, the secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force are not.
THE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION:
Created in 1979. Formerly part of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
THE DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY:
Created in 1977.
THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES:
Created in 1979, when the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (created in 1953) was split into separate entities.
THE DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT:
Created in 1965.
THE DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR:
Created in 1849
THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE:
Created in 1870. Between 1789 and 1870, the attorney general was a member of the Cabinet, but not the head of a department.
THE DEPARTMENT OF LABOR:
Created in 1913
THE DEPARTMENT OF STATE:
Created in 1789.
THE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION:
Created in 1966.
THE DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY:
Created in 1789
THE DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS:
Created in 1988. Formerly the Veterans Administration, now elevated to Cabinet level
DEPARTAMENT OF AGRICULTURE
The Department of Agriculture (USDA) supervises agricultural production to ensure fair prices and stable markets for producers and consumers, works to improve and maintain farm income, and helps to develop and expand markets abroad for agricultural products. The department attempts to curb poverty, hunger and malnutrition by issuing food stamps to the poor; sponsoring educational programs on nutrition; and administering other food assistance programs, primarily for children, expectant mothers and the elderly. It maintains production capacity by helping landowners protect the soil, water, forests and other natural resources. USDA administers rural development, credit and conservation programs that are designed to implement national growth policies, and conducts scientific and technological research in all areas of agriculture. Through its inspection and grading services, USDA ensures standards of quality in food offered for sale. The department also promotes agricultural research by maintaining the National Agricultural Library, the second largest government library in the world. (The U.S. Library of Congress is first.) The USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) serves as an export promotion and service agency for U.S. agriculture, employing specialists abroad who make surveys of foreign agriculture for U.S. farm and business interests. The U.S. Forest Service, also part of the department, administers an extensive network of national forests and wilderness areas.