What is the relationship (or lack thereof) between the president's Cabinet, various agencies in the Executive Office of the President, and the White House Staff?

I know that (vaguely speaking), the Cabinet advises the president on issues and is composed of the heads of the executive departments.

FDR created the EOP for pretty much the same reason. For example, the National Security Council (an EOP subagency) was created to help advise (there's that word again) the president on matters of national security. Isn't that the domain of the Secretary of Defense? To make things worse, the Secretary of Defense also serves on the NSC. I've read that one difference from the Cabinet is that agencies like the NSC are also partly responsible to Congress as to the president. Is that not the case for any bureaucratic body, for they receive funding from Congress?

Finally, there's the White House Staff, who are also supposed to help and advise the president. What's the difference between these organizations?

As a side question about the bureaucracy, what is the hierarchical relationship between department, office, agency, and bureau?

1 Answer 1


As the federal bureaucracy has grown, the idea that the members of the Cabinet would be the main advisors to the President has somewhat fallen by the wayside. Federal departments are massive organizations, largely made up of career civil servants instead of political allies. Cabinet secretaries are political appointees, but they still have to keep a lot of people happy: the President, their own departments (who they work with every day and who provide the main advisors to secretaries), Congressional committees, and others. Secretaries are very busy people running Cabinet agencies.

The Executive Office of the President consists of the immediate support staff of the President. A fair chunk of it is support staff for the actual White House, like the White House chefs. When you exclude those, you get a number of agencies generally handling things that cut across departments. For instance, the federal budget request needs to be a coherent whole, and department secretaries are obviously going to be biased; the EOP contains the Office of Management and Budget, which coordinates. The National Security Council exists to coordinate national security policy (and just so it's clear: the EOP part is the NSC staff; the NSC members are the President, VP, Secretary of State, and Secretary of Defense, none of whom are in the EOP). The White House Staff is not an agency; there is a White House Office, who are the people in the EOP who most directly support the President. The Chief of Staff, the National Security Advisor, the Press Secretary, etc., are all White House Office.

The EOP tends to be less subject to pressure from Congress and others, and more responsive to what the President wants. Cabinet secretaries are mostly running their departments; EOP staff are there to directly support the President. The White House Office is made up of people who are appointed by the President with no confirmation needed, no civil service protections, subject to being reorganized at will, and working either directly for the President or a level or two down.


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