Our Cabinet Is Loaded

Many of our cabinet secretaries are independently wealthy.


From FP‘s Situation Report:

Chuck Hagel is worth as much as $6 million. The defense secretary did well in the private sector and is worth as much as $6 million, the WaPo’s Al Kamen reports. Many Cabinet secretaries — and the service secretaries and others inside the Pentagon — are relinquishing part of their salaries in solidarity with civilian workers who are expected to be furloughed for as many as 14 days.Kamen: “It’s worth noting, however, that some of President Obama’s Cabinet secretaries can more easily afford to participate in the phenomenon we’ve dubbed ‘sacrifice solidarity’ than others. For most, giving up a chunk of their nearly $200,000 annual pay amounts to little more than lost latte money. For a few, though, it’s a serious bit of cash relative to their bank-account balances.”

In the Loop” estimates the Cabinet’s net worth: Secretary of State Kerry: $184.2 million to $287.7 million; Attorney General Holder: $3.8 million to $8.4 million; Hagel: $2.8 million to $6 million; Shinseki: $2.2 million to $5.9 million; HUD Secretary Donovan: $1.5 million to $6.1 million; Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, $1.2 million to $5.6 million; HHS Secretary Sebelius: $502,000 to $4.9 million.

I find the “latte money” bit insulting–these people are, after all, clearly forgoing substantial income just by serving in government. Giving up a portion of their salaries is of course a token gesture but it’s a good one, showing solidarity with their subordinates who actually depend on their government paycheck to make ends meet. Vice President Joe Biden, who has been in government his entire adult life and is therefore not wealthy, has thus far not turned over any of his salary; he has indicated he will do so if his staff are hit with cuts.

Of course, while executive level government service doesn’t pay all that well compared to the private sector, it can pay off handsomely while once out of government. For example, Shinseki retired from the Army 11 June 2003 and became Secretary of Veterans Affairs on 21 January 2009, an interval of 5-1/2 years. He accrued as much as a million dollars a year during his time in the private sector. There’s nothing in his official bio telling us how. According to Wikipedia, “Shinseki has served as a director for several corporations: Honeywell International and Ducommun, military contractors; Grove Farm Corporation; First Hawaiian Bank; and Guardian Life Insurance Company of America.” That’s pretty good money for not much work.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Moosebreath says:

    This is hardly a new development. Eisenhower’s cabinet was described as 11 millionaires and a plumber (the Labor Secretary).

  2. JKB says:

    Vice President Joe Biden, who has been in government his entire adult life and is therefore not wealthy,

    On the executive side, it may be hard to amass your fortune until you leave government, but Biden was in Congress. Many in Congress have amass quite substantial fortunes will “being in government”.

    It wasn’t always so. In 1908, a man would leave the Senate to provide for his family

    The October 13, 1909 NYT has a headline you won’t see today:


  3. James Joyner says:

    @Moosebreath: Oh, no doubt. Indeed, they’re probably less plutocratic now than then.

    @JKB: The rules for outside income have tightened considerably over the last 20-odd years. It’s mostly just that they already come to Congress well off.

  4. JKB says:

    @James Joyner:

    Outside income, yes, but not insider trading.

  5. KariQ says:


    You have any evidence that Biden is guilty of this? Or is it just fun to throw around unsubstantiated insults?

  6. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @KariQ: Just the opposite. Biden must be honest — he’s spent his entire adult life on the public payroll, and he’s not wealthy.

    Stupid as a post, a compulsive liar and bloviator, and a general idiot, but honest. So honest, I actually think he believes his own BS.

  7. ernieyeball says:

    @JKB: So you think it was tough in 1909? Don’t forget about poor (Republican) Representative Duffy just one year ago!


    (By the way I was relieved to read on your link that Sen. (Skin?) Flint was appointed to the National Monetary Comission by VP Sherman so he didn’t have to look for a job when he retired from office.)