10. Shrink the Cabinet

A Plan to Renew the Promise of American Life, Plank 10

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Plank 10. Shrink the cabinet.

Specific Recommendations

10.1. Reduce the number of cabinet departments from fifteen to no more than, say, eight.

10.2. Reorganize the executive branch to place all federal agencies, boards, commissions, and government-sponsored enterprises under a cabinet secretary who reports directly to the president.


The federal establishment has become too big and unwieldy. The cabinet table is overcrowded. During George Washington’s administrations, there were just four department heads: State, Treasury, War, and Justice. Today there are fifteen. More than eighty additional agencies have been created over the decades, most of them in the twentieth century, many of them not fully accountable to the elected branches.

The massive growth of the federal establishment has created inefficiencies and driven up costs. The federal workforce has exploded, creating a permanent constituency for big government. There were 700,000 federal civilian employees in 1940. Today there are 2.7 million. If one includes military personnel and state and local employees, the total number of government workers in the United States (22 million) is greater than the number of workers employed in manufacturing (12.3 million)!

Clearly, there’s some bloat in this beast.

To address these problems, the federal establishment should be thoroughly reorganized, with four objectives in mind. Specifically: 1) Conform to the Constitution. 2) Shrink the cabinet. 3) Prune the organizational chart. 4) Make every agency accountable.

Reorganization should reflect the principles of unity, utility, and accountability:

  1. Unity. As a constitutional matter, every agency must be housed under one of the three branches. (More on this in the next plank.)
  2. Utility. Every agency must be useful and non-duplicative.
  3. Accountability. Every agency must be accountable (it should have to prove its worth to justify its budget), and every agency, including boards and commissions, should have a single chief who is answerable to a cabinet secretary who reports directly to the president.

Note: The word ‘dismantled’ here can have more than one meaning (for example, ‘eliminated, ‘taken apart,’ or ‘phased out’), depending on specific circumstances.

Step I: Reorganize the Executive Branch.

Using the foregoing principles, I have come up with my own proposal for reorganizing the executive branch, as follows.

a. Cabinet Agencies

Reduce the number of cabinet departments from fifteen to eight. Eliminate all unconstitutional functions and sub-agencies. Retain six departments:*

  1. State
  2. Treasury
  3. Defense
  4. Justice
  5. Interior
  6. Commerce

Also, create two new departments:

  1. Foreign Intelligence (to house all non-military intelligence activities)
  2. Administration (to house centralized personnel and procurement functions)

And finally, eliminate nine remaining departments and transfer their functions to others, as seems most appropriate, with Commerce serving as the default destination:

  1. Agriculture
  2. Labor
  3. Housing and Urban Development
  4. Transportation
  5. Health and Human Services
  6. Energy (transfer national security functions to Defense)
  7. Education
  8. Veterans (transfer to Defense as a new operating division headed by a veteran)
  9. Homeland Security

b. Non-Cabinet Agencies

Eliminate, privatize, or bring under departmental control about fifty non-cabinet agencies, boards, commissions, and government-sponsored enterprises. Make the Federal Reserve part of the Treasury Department.**

Step II: Shrink the Cabinet.***

Here, for reference, is the existing cabinet, in order of presidential succession:****

  1. Secretary of State
  2. Secretary of the Treasury
  3. Secretary of Defense
  4. Attorney General (Department of Justice)
  5. Secretary of the Interior
  6. Secretary of Agriculture
  7. Secretary of Commerce
  8. Secretary of Labor
  9. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
  10. Secretary of Transportation
  11. Secretary of Health and Human Services
  12. Secretary of Energy
  13. Secretary of Education
  14. Secretary of Veterans
  15. Secretary of Homeland Security

And here is the proposed new cabinet, also in order of presidential succession:

  1. Secretary of State
  2. Secretary of the Treasury
  3. Secretary of Defense
  4. Attorney General
  5. Secretary of the Interior
  6. Secretary of Commerce
  7. Secretary of Foreign Intelligence
  8. Secretary of Administration

Which one looks better to you?

* In this article, existing cabinet agencies are listed in order of creation.

** The Fed should be remodeled, with its inherently private functions privatized and its inherently public functions folded back into the Treasury Department. For more on the Fed, see the honest money and independent agencies planks.

*** The cabinet also includes the vice president and other executive-branch officers granted cabinet rank by the president.

**** A note on presidential succession. Under a proper reading of the Constitution, only executive-branch officers may be included by Congress in the presidential line of succession. Unfortunately, Congress, in the Presidential Succession Act of 1947, inserted the speaker of the House of Representatives and the president pro tempore of the Senate into the list, between the vice president and the department heads. This conflict between the Succession Act and the Constitution needlessly creates a non-zero probability of a constitutional crisis in which two rival claimants to the presidency, one from the legislative branch, the other from the executive, vie for recognition as the ‘rightful’ president. In such a scenario, the Supreme Court would doubtless be drawn into the fray, as it was in the Florida recount crisis of 2000. Congress should fix the error by removing the speaker and president pro tem from the list.

Constitutional Amendments

This plank does not require any constitutional amendments.


Will make the federal establishment smaller and more accountable and more constitutionally appropriate.

Will reduce federal spending by eliminating unnecessary departments, agencies, boards, commissions, and government-sponsored enterprises.


Plank 9     Contents     Plank 11

Revised: March 30, 2016.

Published: June 21, 2013.

Author: Dean Clancy.

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