Cabinet Tenure In Perspective

Obama Cabinet Meeting

As I noted in my earlier post, once Eric Holder’s resignation becomes final, there will only be two people left from the Cabinet that President Obama selected when he first entered office, the Secretaries of Education and Agriculture. In the meantime, Holder will have been the fourth longest serving Attorney General in history. The Fix’s Philip Bump used this occasion to take a look at cabinet tenure in general and found some interesting facts:

Holder was one of three original Obama Cabinet members, along with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. George W. Bush only had one original Cabinet member still in place when he left office in 2009: Elaine Chao, secretary of labor and, as has become an issue of late in Kentucky, wife of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R).

Since 1981, when Ronald Reagan was inaugurated, attorney general and the secretary of education have been two of the four longest serving Cabinet positions, on average. The other two are secretary of the interior and head of the Department of Health and Human Services. The position that sees the most turnover? Commerce.

Here’s the chart:

Cabinet Tenure Chart One

And here’s another chart showing average cabinet tenure for every President since Reagan, so far Obama ranks near the bottom:

Cabinet Tenure Chart Two

The average for President George H.W. Bush is higher than it looks, of course, because he only served four years in office. Had he been re-elected his average would likely be somewhere close to his son or President Reagan. Clinton’s high average is largely a reflection of the fact that he had four Cabinet Secretaries who served for his entire eight years, Attorney General Janet Reno, Secretary of Education, Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Secretary of the Interior. Obama’s number, meanwhile, will likely rise as we head toward January 2017 but is also likely influenced by the turnover we’ve seen at Defense and Commerce during his time in office.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.