Schooling Up — Understanding the Executive Branch

Schooling Up — Understanding the Executive Branch 2016-12-14T19:03:47+00:00

The Executive branch is one of three branches of the U.S. Federal government system designed over two hundred years ago by leaders who wanted a strong national government that would still protect individual rights and liberties. The Founding Fathers decided that there would be a system of checks and balances in the form of three branches of government: the Legislative branch would make the laws of the land, the Executive branch would carry them out, and the Judicial branch would interpret the laws once they were enacted.


The Executive branch is headed by the President of the United States, who is elected every four years. The President has a number of important duties that are spelled out in the United States Constitution including:

  • Approving and carrying out or vetoing laws passed by the Legislative branch.
  • Appointing or removing cabinet members and other government officials, such as judges.
  • Negotiating treaties, and acting as the head of state and as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

The President is generally considered to be the official leader of their political party. Other duties and titles of the President include world leader, crisis manager, coalition builder, priority setter for government initiatives, and budget setter for the country.

The President also assesses the state of the nation on an annual basis and delivers an important “State of the Union” speech that outlines the strategic initiatives of the Administration. The State of the Union speech is delivered to the legislative branch in January each year the President is in office.

The Executive branch also includes the Vice President and other officials, who assist in formulating policy and advising the President on important matters of the day. A select group of advisors form the Presidential Cabinet.

The Cabinet

The Cabinet is composed of the heads of the 15 major departments of the Executive branch of the government. One of the principal purposes of the Cabinet is to advise the President on items that come up in relation to the duties of their respective offices. For example, the Secretaries of Commerce and Treasury would be likely to address financial issues, while the Attorney General would provide advice about legal issues of relevance.

The Cabinet includes the Vice President and the heads of 15 Executive branch departments — the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury and Veterans Affairs.

Executive Office of the President

The Executive branch also has an Executive Office of the President to execute the policies, initiatives and strategies of the President and the Administration. Some of the departments included in this area are the Office of Policy Development, the Office of Management and Budget, the Council of Economic Advisors, and the National Security Council.

These departments have many positions that are politically appointed, with the position holder serving “at the pleasure of the President”. Other positions within the government are civil service career positions with Federal employees in them who do not leave their position when a new administration is elected.

The Executive branch has many opportunities for experienced applicants who want to move the government forward and help set goals for the country for the next four years. For those who are interested in pursuing a political appointment within the Executive or Legislative branches or within an Independent Agency, go here to view policy-making opportunities in the 2008 Plum Book.

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