Cabinet Councils

  • Anthony J. Bennett

Abstract

As has been seen, every president throughout this period has come up against the same problem: there are good reasons to hold full cabinet meetings — to engender team spirit, for information giving, information gathering, sorting out inter-departmental disputes, checking up on legislation and the like — but these meetings often come to be regarded by the participants as a waste of time and boring. What on earth is the point of having the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development listen to a presentation on foreign policy, or the Secretary of Defense listen to one on inner city redevelopment? Neither has any knowledge of the other’s policy. Both are probably policy specialists in their own field. The Secretary of Defense will not become the HUD Secretary, and vice versa. As has been seen, cabinet reshuffles are almost unheard of in the American system. And in the American president’s cabinet, there is no doctrine of collective responsibility and it is not a decision-making body. So the reasons why British cabinet ministers holding the equivalent posts in Whitehall would both want and need to be in on the discussion of policy areas other than their own do not apply in Washington. American cabinet officers spoke of going to cabinet meetings thinking, ‘I wonder how soon I can get out of this meeting so that I can get on with all the work I need to do’, while another described them as ‘a charade’. Carter’s National Security Adviser Dr Brzezinski used them to catch up with his reading of the weekly journals carefully hidden below the table on his knees. President Reagan dozed off during them. Most presidents held fewer cabinet meetings as their administrations progressed, becoming victims of a ‘cycle of disillusionment’ regarding them.

Keywords

Transportation Assure Percolate 

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9 Cabinet Councils

  1. 1.
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  2. 2.
    William Brock, in an interview with the author, July 1993.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Caspar Weinberger, ‘Yes, Washington, We Can Have Cabinet Government’, The Washington Post, 1 December 1980, p. A19.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Caspar Weinberger, in an interview with the author, June 1993.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
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  6. 8.
    White House Fact Sheet, 26 February 1981, quoted in Michael Turner, ‘The Reagan White House, the Cabinet and the Bureaucracy’, in John D. Lees and Michael Turner (eds), Reagan’s First Four Years: A New Beginning? (1988), p. 47.Google Scholar
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    On this point, see Edwin Meese, With Reagan: The Inside Story (1992), p. 77.Google Scholar
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    James P. Pfiffner, The Strategic Presidency: Hitting the Ground Running (1988), p. 61.Google Scholar
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    Terrel Bell, The Thirteenth Man: A Reagan Cabinet Member (1988), p. 31.Google Scholar
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    Don Regan, in an interview with the author, April 1995.Google Scholar
  11. 21.
    James Cicconi, in an interview with the author, July 1993.Google Scholar
  12. 22.
    Clayton Yeutter, in an interview with the author, July 1993.Google Scholar
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    Don Regan, in an interview with the author, April 1995.Google Scholar
  14. 28.
    John Block, in an interview with the author, June 1993.Google Scholar
  15. 29.
    Caspar Weinberger, in an interview with the author, June 1993.Google Scholar
  16. 30.
    James Burnley, in an interview with the author, June 1993.Google Scholar
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    William Brock, in an interview with the author, July 1993.Google Scholar
  18. 33.
    James Burnley, in an interview with the author, June 1993.Google Scholar
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    Richard Schweiker, in an interview with the author, July 1993.Google Scholar
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  22. 38.
    Don Regan, in an interview with the author, April 1995.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Anthony J. Bennett 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anthony J. Bennett
    • 1
  1. 1.Charterhouse, SurreyUK

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