The vice presidency is a strange office, lacking practically any formal powers despite its symbolic importance and high public profile. The result is that a vice president’s influence depends largely on the whims of the president. Some veeps have been delegated important tasks and served as major strategic advisers, while others have been largely ignored and sent off to attend funerals that aren’t deemed worth the president’s time. Trump chose Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate to shore up his support in the Republican Party and the conservative movement, and so far Pence appears to have had immense sway in staffing the administration. But he’ll only keep that influence if he remains in Trump’s good graces.
Read more: 7 things to know about Mike Pence
Chief of Staff
The chief of staff job is traditionally the top position in the White House. It always involves managing the White House’s personnel and generally making sure the government is running smoothly. But while some chiefs of staff have also been empowered by the president to enforce his will throughout the executive branch, manage the president’s decision-making process, and dictate political strategy, others have been comparatively weak. Trump has chosen RNC Chair Reince Priebus, who boasts strong connections to the Republican establishment but has never worked in government before. Trump’s team has also said Priebus will be an "equal partner" with chief strategist Steve Bannon — making it unclear if anyone other than the president will really be able to run the show.
Read more: Reince Priebus, Normalizer in Chief
Several presidents have chosen to complement their chief of staff with another high-level White House adviser who will focus on big-picture strategy (while the chief of staff handles day-to-day management). But Trump has gone further by creating a new "chief strategist" role, and saying it will be an "equal partner" to the chief of staff. This role will go to Steve Bannon, who ran Breitbart News and then served as the Trump campaign’s CEO for the last three months of the election. Bannon has already become intensely controversial for his stewardship of Breitbart, which he called "the platform for the alt-right," and he seems set to exercise immense influence in Trump’s White House.
Read more: Steve Bannon, explained
The Trump transition has announced that Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and close adviser, will serve as senior adviser to the president. And though the title might not seem impressive at first, according to a transition press release, Kushner will work closely with both Reince Priebus (the chief of staff) and Steve Bannon (the chief strategist) on leadership matters — setting up a three-person team at the top of the White House power structure. Adding a family member to the White House team can be a tricky thing, as veterans of the bumpy Clinton administration’s health reform effort, which gave First Lady Hillary Clinton a key role, will tell you. The key problem is that every staffer who’s not a family member is far more vulnerable to being fired, which sets up messy and unequal contests for influence within the administration. Still, Trump seems to deeply trust Kushner’s judgment, and empowered him to exercise immense influence during the campaign and transition. That's likely to continue in the administration, too. Kushner is a real estate heir who took over his father’s multibillion dollar development company in 2008, and has also owned the New York Observer for over a decade.
Read more: Why Jared Kushner is Donald Trump's truest heir and most trusted adviser
Counselor to the President
Counselor is a prestigious White House title often given to a trusted confidant of the president. It’s a high-ranking advisory position that ensures a place in the president’s inner circle, though its specific duties and responsibilities depend on the particular person in the job. John Podesta served as counselor to President Obama for part of his second term, and Karen Hughes had the gig at the beginning of George W. Bush’s administration. For Trump, the job will be filled by Kellyanne Conway, his pollster and then campaign manager for the final three months of the election. Conway’s responsibilities in the role, beyond generally advising the president and working on messaging strategy, aren’t yet clear.
Read more: Kellyanne Conway’s political machinations
Senior Adviser for Policy
A set of jobs dubbed "senior adviser to the president" has also been near the top of recent White House pecking orders. The particulars of a senior adviser job depend on who is selected for it, but usually it entails top-level input on policy, politics, or strategy and sometimes direct management of other White House staff. Often, these roles serve as a sort of counterweight to the chief of staff, ensuring multiple opinions are aired at the top level of leadership. Karl Rove was a senior adviser in George W. Bush’s White House, while David Axelrod, David Plouffe, and Valerie Jarrett held that title under Obama. All were extremely influential. Trump has announced one senior adviser so far — 30-year-old Stephen Miller, a former staffer for Sen. Jeff Sessions and a Trump campaign speechwriter, will be the "Senior Adviser to the President for Policy."
White House — Operations
Deputy Chiefs of Staff
Katie Walsh, Rick Dearborn and Joe Hagin
Deputy chiefs of staff are usually subordinate to the chief of staff, tasked with carrying out his or her wishes throughout the administration. The exact divisions of labor can vary, but recent administrations have had two, splitting up policy and operations. Trump, however, has chosen to appoint three deputy chiefs. RNC staffer Katie Walsh will be Deputy Chief of Staff for the White House, assisting Reince Priebus in overseeing senior staff and supervising the scheduling office. Rick Dearborn, an aide to Sen. Jeff Sessions, will be Deputy Chief of Staff for Legislative, Intergovernmental Affairs and Implementation — he'll oversee relations with Congress and the Cabinet. Finally, Joe Hagin — who served President George W. Bush's Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations — will take that same role again for President Trump.
White House Counsel
The White House counsel is the president’s top lawyer, and he or she has to provide advice on just what the president and the White House staff can and can’t do, legally. Some of this analysis is offered in private, and it can boil down to explaining what the president’s powers appear to be under the law (or alternatively, what he’s likely to get away with doing). When a White House counsel opinion is released publicly, it tends to be a legal justification about why the president’s actions are in fact legal. For Trump, much of this advice will likely relate to ethics, specifically to his business and the many potential conflicts of interest it presents. The president-elect has chosen Don McGahn, a longtime Republican lawyer and former Federal Election Commission head who also worked as a lawyer for the presidential campaign, for the job.
Read more: Don McGahn, a combative White House Counsel
Press Secretary and Communications Director
The White House press secretary is the president's main spokesperson and representative, with the responsibility of dealing with the press on a day-to-day basis. By tradition, he or she will brief journalists covering the White House nearly every day (and often get grilled by them). It's a very visible role that demands quickness on the feet, the ability to stick to a message, and a willingness to do a whole lot of spinning. Meanwhile, the communications director is usually in charge of the bigger-picture, longer-term thinking and planning about how the president can get his message out through the media and to the American people. He or she tries to shape the larger narrative of what the administration is doing, in hopes of making the president more popular by winning over the public. In the Trump Administration, these two roles — usually separate — will both be filled by RNC staffer Sean Spicer.
Read more: The Wall Street Journal on Sean Spicer
Strategic Communications Director
With Sean Spicer taking both the Press Secretary and Communications Director roles, Trump has created a new post for his campaign's first press secretary, Hope Hicks. She'll serve as the White House's Director of Strategic Communications, and will reportedly focus on promoting Trump's legislative agenda. Though Hicks's exact White House duties are as yet unclear, she's close to the incoming president and has been his longest-serving aide.
Read more: GQ's profile of Hope Hicks
Legislative Affairs Director
There are 100 senators and 435 members of the House of Representatives, and if the president wants to advance his agenda, he’ll have to maintain good relations with a whole lot of them. So the legislative director has the difficult task of managing these relations — taking the temperature of members of Congress, ensuring they’ve been cared for and fed, and trying to win them over to the president’s side. Typically, this role is filled by someone with deep experience in and knowledge of Congress. Marc Short, a former aide to the Koch brothers and Sen. Marco Rubio, will get the gig for Trump.
Director of Scheduling
Everyone wants face time with the president, but presidential time is a finite resource. It’s the scheduler who has to balance all of these competing demands — meetings with people inside and outside the administration, PR events, foreign trips, time for family and friends, etc. So what may sound like an anodyne administrative job can develop into a crucial strategic role and a major White House power center — because when all those people want to talk to the president, it’s the scheduler who gets to tell them yes or no. Trump has chosen Caroline Wiles, who served as scheduling director for his campaign during the final few months, for the post.
National Security Council Adviser
The national security adviser is arguably the most important foreign policy job in the administration. He or she is the president’s primary source of information and advice on all issues of national security and foreign policy. The job has three main components, each one important in its own right: briefing the president on the major news or crises of the day; relaying the specific and often differing recommendations of the Pentagon, the State Department, and other parts of the national security bureaucracy; and then making recommendations about which path to choose. The job also entails running the National Security Council staff, which has centralized power to an unprecedented degree during the Bush and Obama administrations (though Trump’s team reportedly wants to shrink it). Trump’s choice for the job — retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency — has been his most controversial single pick. Critics of both parties note that Flynn’s tenure in the Obama administration was marked by clashes with his superiors and a reprimand for mishandling classified information. Flynn also has a penchant for anti-Muslim rhetoric, highly partisan language, and conspiracy theories.
Read more: How Mike Flynn became America’s angriest general
In the US military’s chain of command, the secretary of defense comes right after the president. He or she is in charge of overseeing the world’s most powerful military and its many operations abroad. But in practice, much of the job entails managing one of the world’s largest bureaucracies — the different branches of the armed services, many different smaller defense agencies, and a civilian staff of more than 700,000. Trump’s pick to oversee all this is retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, who served as the top commander for US military forces in the Middle East until 2013. He’s popular on Capitol Hill, but his confirmation won’t necessarily be easy — current law holds that no former military officer who has retired in the past seven years can serve as secretary of defense, so Mattis will require a special waiver from Congress.
Read more: Meet Jim "Mad Dog" Mattis
Secretary of State
The secretary of state is the president’s top diplomat and the face of the United States around the world. He or she must oversee the entire foreign service, which runs US embassies and consulates around the globe, and help pick and oversee individual ambassadors. The job also requires patiently cajoling feuding nations into striking deals that can avoid further chaos and bloodshed. If Trump is serious about seeking warmer relations with Russia and a tougher line with China, the secretary of state would be the one crafting specific policies and overseeing the negotiations in Moscow and Beijing. Trump has chosen to nominate Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil, who has never worked in government but has a vast amount of practical experience in negotiating with foreign countries due to his company’s many holdings abroad. The pick has sparked controversy because of Tillerson’s close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who personally gave Tillerson a prestigious award for Exxon’s joint energy projects with Russian firms. What Tillerson’s selection means for US foreign policy, though, isn’t yet so clear.
Read more: Trump’s Secretary of State pick is a Putin-friendly Exxon CEO
The CIA director runs the US’s premier spy agency, which both gathers intelligence abroad and carries out many covert operations in foreign countries. On the intelligence side, the CIA assesses the capabilities and intentions of foreign powers and tries to spot and help prevent potential terror attacks. In recent years, the agency has also conducted a large-scale program to use armed drones to kill individual terror leaders in countries like Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. CIA paramilitary operatives also conduct operations on the ground alongside elite US special forces personnel. More controversially, the CIA played a lead role in the Bush administration’s torture program and was credibly accused of misleading Congress about its effectiveness. Trump’s pick to head the CIA is Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas, a former Army officer who founded an aerospace parts manufacturing company before joining Congress in 2011. Running a secretive spy agency is difficult in the best of times, but Pompeo could have a particularly tough time of it, since Trump has sharply criticized the CIA for its leaked assessment that Russia was trying to help him win the election.
Read more: Mike Pompeo is Trump’s pick to lead CIA
Director of National Intelligence
Throughout the US government, there are 16 different agencies that collect intelligence related to national security or foreign affairs, including the CIA, the NSA, the DIA, and the intelligence branch of the FBI. After 9/11, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence was created to oversee all of this activity, with the hopes that putting one person in charge would facilitate information sharing among them. The office’s director (DNI) was to be the primary person advising the president on intelligence matters. It’s a tremendously difficult bureaucratic task, since many of those 16 agencies are embedded in other departments, with their own bosses. And while the DNI is technically the boss of the CIA director, in practice the CIA has tended to exercise a great deal of independence and to often be the one briefing the president about both general intelligence conclusions and specific missions. Trump has chosen Dan Coats, a longtime (on-again and off-again) senator who has served on the Senate Intelligence Committee and therefore worked closely with intelligence agencies, for the post.
Read more: CRS report on the Director of National Intelligence’s authorities
The Treasury Department is the foremost economic agency in the Cabinet (though it comes second to the Federal Reserve in overall influence on the economy). Its main duties include managing the US government’s debt, overseeing the government’s revenue collection (including the IRS and tax law enforcement), printing US currency, and helping the government respond to economic crises. Additionally, the secretary of the Treasury is generally viewed as the face of the administration’s economic policy. Trump has given the job to Steven Mnuchin, a billionaire investor and the leading fundraiser for his presidential campaign. Mnuchin has never worked in government, and his views on many policy issues remain unclear, but since his selection he’s made it very clear that he supports a big tax cut.
Read more: Trump’s top fundraiser eyes the deal of a lifetime
National Economic Council Chair
The director of the National Economic Council plays a role in economic policy akin to the national security adviser’s in foreign policy — he or she helps the president make decisions by presenting recommendations from several different agencies, managing a structured process and offering advice. The typical model for the job is that of an "honest broker," who gains the trust of the various agencies by making sure their views are fairly presented and heard. But some NEC directors — like Larry Summers, who had the job for President Obama’s first two years — have had very strong opinions of their own, and have made sure everyone heard them. Trump has chosen Gary Cohn, the COO of Goldman Sachs and a registered Democrat, as his NEC director, and Cohn will reportedly serve as a key Trump liaison to the business community.
Read more: How Gary Cohn became Trump’s top economic adviser
Office of Management and Budget Director
The Office of Management and Budget is in charge of producing the president’s budget for the federal government. The president’s budget doesn’t have the force of law, but is instead merely a starting point for a funding process that’s actually dominated by Congress (a process that has been particularly dysfunctional in recent years). Still, in the process of producing the budget, the president weighs all the many demands on government money from the agencies against each other, and lays out his preferences on who should get what. Institutionally, it’s often the OMB director who’s pushing to cut government spending, since he or she has an incentive to keep down the deficit level in the overall budget. Trump has picked Rep. Mick Mulvaney, a very conservative Congress member from South Carolina with some odd ideas about economics, for the gig.
Read more: Mick Mulvaney’s ideas on economic policy
Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs
Ensconced within the OMB is the little-known but powerful Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, or OIRA. The office was created as a sort of bottleneck for new economically significant regulations or rules from Cabinet and other federal agencies — the OIRA administrator has the authority to review many of these proposed regulations with an eye to whether their costs exceed their benefits. The Reagan administration gave the office these powers under the reasoning that agencies have bureaucratic incentives to churn out new rules, so someone should have the job of keeping them in check. Accordingly, OIRA has been called the "graveyard of regulation," and proposed environmental, public health, and labor rules all fall under its purview. During President Obama’s first term, legal scholar Cass Sunstein held the job.
Read more: CRS report on OIRA’s powers
Council of Economic Advisers chair
The Council of Economic Advisers is a group of three economists, led by one chair, with a relatively small staff. It has no legal or regulatory authority whatsoever — its main purposes are instead to deliver economic analysis and advice to the president, to promote the administration’s economic agenda, and to work with other Cabinet agencies on policymaking. More broadly, CEA’s existence is meant to ensure that credentialed academic economists have a voice in the administration, so that economic policymaking and advice to the president isn’t entirely dominated by bankers, bureaucrats, or political operatives.
Read more: The history of the CEA
The Commerce Department’s stated mission is "to create the conditions for economic growth and opportunity," but in practice the department has been viewed as a Cabinet backwater. It supervises a hodgepodge of agencies — The census! Ocean sciences! Patents! — but the main economic policymaking action has been elsewhere. Yet the department does have a fair amount of power to impose tariffs, and Trump’s team reportedly intends to give its secretary a big role in running trade policy. Wilbur Ross, a billionaire investor who’s restructured companies in struggling US industries, is the president-elect’s pick for the job.
Read more: The Bottom-Feeder King
National Trade Council
Trump made a surprise announcement during the transition that he would create a new National Trade Council, to be run by a director of trade and industrial policy in the White House. According to his team, it’s meant to work like the National Security Council or National Economic Council — that is, it will manage policy across the different agencies, and present recommendations to the president. Another rationale for the new council is that it will serve as a check on the Office of the US Trade Representative, which is institutionally inclined to make and pass new trade deals. The first chair of the National Trade Council will be Peter Navarro, an economist who’s long wanted a harder line on trade with China.
Read more: The Economist Whose Ideas Guide Trump
Federal Reserve Board of Governors (2 vacancies)
The Federal Reserve is the US’s extremely powerful central banking system, which manages monetary policy with the dual goals of raising employment and limiting inflation. Its decisions on whether to raise or lower interest rates ripple outward through the US economy. The Fed’s leadership is centralized in Washington, DC, in a seven-member board of governors, led by the chair. Janet Yellen will continue to hold that top job until her term expires in early 2018. But President-elect Trump can make his mark on the Fed right off the bat, because two of those board of governors seats are currently vacant. In recent years, there’s been a bipartisan tradition of amounting either highly credentialed economists or bankers to fill these positions.
Securities and Exchange Commission Chair
The Securities and Exchange Commission is a major regulator of banks and Wall Street, charged with enforcing securities laws and writing new rules to govern the industry. President Obama’s SEC chair, Mary Jo White, has described the commission’s mission as: "Protect investors, facilitate capital formation, and insure the fairness and integrity of the marketplace." However, the agency is frequently criticized as being too friendly to Wall Street. White will step down at the end of Obama’s term, so Trump will get to appoint a new SEC chair right off the bat — and he's chosen Jay Clayton, a Wall Street lawyer whose clients include Goldman Sachs, for the gig.
Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chair
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission regulates the futures and options markets. That means it’s in charge of regulating hundreds of trillions of dollars’ worth of derivatives trades, with an eye toward preventing another financial crisis like the one that unfolded in 2008. Some CFTC chairs, like Gary Gensler in the Obama administration, use the position to push for rules forcing more transparency in derivatives markets. Others have preferred a laxer approach to enforcement and regulation, arguing that regulations can cause more harm than good. The current chair of the commission, Timothy Massad, is expected to step down in early 2017, letting President-elect Trump appoint his replacement.
Read more: What Gary Gensler did at CFTC
Federal Communications Commission Chair
The Federal Communications Commission has regulatory authority over radio, cable, television, phone service, and the internet. The last of those has become a particular point of controversy in recent years, as the FCC under Obama passed net neutrality rules that Republicans — and major service providers like Comcast and Verizon — are eager to roll back. The commission has five members, no more than three of whom can be from any one party. But since two of its three current Democratic members will be gone by the end of President Obama’s term, Trump will start off with a Republican-controlled FCC immediately. Trump has selected Ajit Pai, an incumbent Republican commissioner and a staunch opponent of net neutrality, for the post.
Federal Trade Commission Chair
The Federal Trade Commission is a major US antitrust agency, charged with ensuring competition in markets, with an eye toward preventing monopolies or concentration of corporate power that could hurt consumers. It gets to weigh in on many proposed business mergers, and can try to block them if they are deemed uncompetitive. The FTC is also supposed to prevent coordination on the part of multiple firms to limit competition, such as price-fixing agreements. With two vacancies currently on the five-member commission, Trump will have the opportunity to install a Republican majority and a new chair.
National Labor Relations Board (2 vacancies)
The National Labor Relations Board oversees collective bargaining processes, union elections, and cases involving disputes between workers and their employers. It’s a five-member board, of which no more than three members can be of the same party. Under Democratic presidents, the board is typically an ally of labor, while under Republicans it’s usually pro-business. Partisan battles over NLRB appointments are common.
Read more: Trump poised to reshape labor board, lawyers say
Law & Law Enforcement
Supreme Court Vacancy
Presidents and Cabinet secretaries come and go, but a Supreme Court appointment can be — and often is — for life. So Trump’s decision in filling the seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia could have an impact that lasts decades. The Court currently has four liberals and four conservatives, so this new appointment will likely give the right a majority once again (though that doesn’t mean conservatives will always get their way — Justice Anthony Kennedy and Chief Justice John Roberts have broken from their compatriots in some high-profile cases). And if any of the four liberals’ seats should open up, Trump could massively shift the court to the right.
Read more: President Trump’s Supreme Court shortlist
The attorney general is the top law enforcement officer in the federal government, heading the Department of Justice. When agencies like the FBI or Drug Enforcement Administration investigate federal crimes, the Department of Justice and its lawyers decide whether to pursue those cases. But since the DOJ has limited resources, decisions about which cases — or types of cases — to prioritize pursuing can be hugely important. For instance, a Justice Department could devote particular attention to protecting voting rights, prosecuting voter fraud, enforcing immigration law, flushing out political corruption, or going after white-collar crime. The Justice Department also has the crucial role of weighing in on the legality of actions being taken or policies being made elsewhere in the government — from presidential executive actions to top-secret national security matters in the war on terror. Trump has chosen Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a staunch conservative known for taking a hard line against unauthorized immigration, for the job.
Read more: Jeff Sessions could overhaul department he’s skewered
Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel
Inside the Department of Justice is a low-profile but enormously important unit of 25 attorneys — the Office of Legal Counsel, which gives its opinions on just what the president and federal agencies throughout the executive branch can legally do. OLC’s opinions are generally treated as binding in the executive branch, making its judgments often the final word on an executive or agency action unless the matter ends up in court. The office became a particular flashpoint during George W. Bush’s administration, when it produced a series of memos justifying torture — an issue that could come up again under President Trump, given his pro-torture statements during the campaign.
Read more: As Trump tests legal boundaries, small DOJ unit poised for big role
Homeland Security Secretary
The reorganization of the executive branch after 9/11 birthed the Department of Homeland Security, which is theoretically charged with preventing terror attacks but in practice is responsible for overseeing a mélange of agencies that direct the government’s prevention and response to disasters (both natural and terroristic). These include various agencies related to border security, immigration enforcement, and citizenship, as well as FEMA (which helps states respond to disasters) the TSA, and even the Secret Service. Overall, it’s a notoriously challenging bureaucracy to manage. Trump’s pick to lead it is retired Gen. John Kelly, who’s warned that insecurity in Latin America poses an "existential threat" to the US.
Read more: Trump’s pick to lead DHS, explained
Energy & Environment
Environmental Protection Agency
The Environmental Protection Agency is in charge of regulating air and water pollution, enforcing laws like the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. In recent years, it’s also become the leading government agency trying to rein in climate change, by regulating greenhouse gas emissions along with conventional pollutants. But the agency is a bête noire for conservatives, who argue it is harming businesses generally as well as specific industries like coal. Trump has chosen Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a fierce critic of Obama’s EPA who has fought many climate regulations, for the gig.
Read more: Trump’s EPA pick is an ardent foe of virtually everything Obama’s EPA has done
The Department of Energy’s name might call to mind drilling for oil. In practice, though, the department’s main responsibilities are overseeing the US nuclear weapons program, handling nuclear waste, running a set of national laboratories that conduct science and technological research, and funding R&D related to energy. Under Obama, much of the department’s R&D emphasis has been on clean energy research (for instance, it’s funded efforts to improve batteries for electric vehicles). But Trump has named former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a major ally of fossil fuel industries, for the job, likely signaling a shift back to favoring conventional sources of energy.
Read more: What Rick Perry’s selection could mean for the Energy Department
The Interior Department oversees most lands owned by the federal government — and it has major energy and environmental responsibilities. Interior decides whether to allow fracking or coal mining on public lands, and it oversees oil and gas drilling offshore. The agency also regulates coal mining, and its Bureau of Indian Affairs oversees lands held in trust for Native American tribes. Trump’s pick for interior secretary, Rep. Ryan Zinke of Montana, was reportedly chosen in part because he’s an ally of hunting and fishing groups, which want to keep public lands publicly owned rather than selling them off (as some conservatives prefer).
Read more: Trump Interior pick lifts outdoors groups
The Department of Agriculture administers food stamp assistance to millions of low-income Americans, the US’s multibillion-dollar-per-year program of farm subsidies, and the National School Lunch Program. The job has an important environmental component, both because the Department oversees the US Forest Service and because agriculture is a significant source of US greenhouse gas emissions. The department also generally oversees the sustainability of the US food production system by doing things like, for instance, keeping an eye on the health of the honeybee population. Under President Obama, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has also tried to use his job to advocate for the interests of rural America. Trump has chosen Sonny Perdue, the former governor of Georgia, to be his Agriculture Secretary
The Secretary of Transportation has the jobs of improving the nation’s transportation systems and ensuring that they’re safe. The department oversees the regulatory agencies overseeing aviation, railroads, shipping, highways, and traffic safety. It also spends tens of billions each year funding infrastructure- and transportation-related projects around the country. Trump’s pick for the job is Elaine Chao, who served as secretary of labor throughout the George W. Bush presidency and has worked in the conservative think tank world as well as on various corporate boards.
Health and Human Services Secretary
The Department of Health and Human Services provides health insurance coverage to more than 100 million Americans through various programs, including Medicare and Medicaid. The department also oversees the implementation of Obamacare at the national level — an enormous task that includes (among many other things) crafting the definition of essential health benefits, enforcing regulations, tracking premium growth, and setting up the website Healthcare.gov as a portal through which people in certain states could purchase insurance. As such, the secretary usually becomes the face of the administration’s health care policy. Trump has chosen Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, a physician and Obamacare critic, for the job.
Read more: By picking Tom Price to lead HHS, Trump shows he’s absolutely serious about dismantling Obamacare
Housing and Urban Development Secretary
The Department of Housing and Urban Development administers subsidies that help low-income people pay for housing — such as what was until recently called the Section 8 program — and oversees the Federal Housing Administration, which insures mortgage loans for lenders. HUD also tries to prevent racial discrimination in housing, oversees public housing, and gives grants for community development. Trump has chosen Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon and former Republican presidential candidate, to run the agency.
Most US education policy is determined, and funding is provided, at the local level. But the secretary of education has the authority to approve state plans aimed at holding schools accountable for performance, as well as overseeing higher education, particularly in the realm of federal student loans and Pell Grants. However, some of the powers the secretary exercised under President Obama have been reined in by a recent law — for instance, the secretary can no longer use grant programs to push states to adopt standards like Common Core. Trump has selected Betsy DeVos, a longtime Republican activist and advocate for expanding school vouchers, for the job — which could signal that he’s serious about trying to pass the massive expansion of vouchers he proposed during the campaign.
Read more: The DeVos pick suggests vouchers are at the top of Trump’s agenda
The Department of Labor is in charge of enforcing labor laws and regulations, and therefore ensuring workers are treated fairly by their employers. However, the department also has certain tools that could be used to make unions’ lives more difficult — for instance, by toughening disclosure rules on what they do with their money. Labor secretaries in Republican administrations, like Elaine Chao under President George W. Bush, have often been criticized for lax enforcement and too much friendliness to business. Trump’s pick for the job, Andy Puzder, is no friend of unions either — he’s a fast-food restaurant CEO who is known for his opposition to increasing the minimum wage.
Read more: The hidden powers Andy Puzder would hold at the Department of Labor
Veterans Affairs Secretary
The Department of Veterans Affairs has the responsibility of providing benefits for military veterans. It’s the US’s largest integrated health system, with more than 8 million veterans enrolled who seek treatment at hundreds of VA-run clinics and medical centers spread around the country. It’s also in charge of making disability payments to veterans. Under Obama, the department was initially scandal-plagued and dysfunctional, as bureaucrats covered up long wait times for patients requesting care. Veterans groups have praised current VA Secretary Robert McDonald, who began his tenure in 2014, for improving the department's situation. Free market conservative activists pushed Trump for drastic changes in the VA's health care delivery system, and hoped he would pick a VA Secretary who wants to carry out that agenda. Instead, Trump opted for continuity — he’s chosen David Shulkin, who is currently serving in the Veterans Affairs Department as Undersecretary for Health under President Obama, for the job.
Read more: Major veterans groups rattled by Trump's plans