So, how does the president know what to do every day? The president’s basic job description is in a very special place: the Constitution!
The Constitution is the government's official rulebook, and it explains what powers and responsibilities the president has. It even includes the oath that the president must say before taking office!
Setting the Agenda
The president is our nation’s leader and often has goals for what the United States should accomplish. The president must explain that vision to other leaders in our government and to the people.
The Constitution says the president must “from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union.” (They capitalized a lot of extra words back then.)
The president does this once a year by giving a speech to a joint session of Congress (both the House and the Senate together). In this speech, the president tells everyone how things are going and sets goals for the coming year. This speech is called the State of the Union address.
Being president must be super fun, right? Well, maybe… but being president of the United States is a tough job with important responsibilities that impact millions of people's lives. The president has to run the government, lead the military as Commander-in-Chief, and be the face of America to the rest of the world. Even while traveling on Air Force One, the president’s official jet, the President is still hard at work!
Click the link and look through the slide show.
Running the country is a huge job. Even if the president never slept, it would be impossible to run the country alone. Fortunately, the president has help—a group of advisors called the cabinet. Each of these advisors is the head of a different government department.
The Constitution didn’t actually create the cabinet. It didn’t even create government departments! What it does say is that the president “may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments…”
A quick mention of departments was good enough! Today’s executive branch has fifteen departments. Today’s presidents regularly ask the department heads’ opinions during cabinet meetings. On the right, you see President Obama meeting with his cabinet in April 2009.
Click on the link to see a list of the president's current cabinet members.
Congress passes laws, but the executive branch departments carry out those laws on a day-to-day basis. Your senator does not deliver the mail — the United States Postal Service does! Your House member does not arrest someone for breaking a federal law — an FBI agent working for the Department of Justice does! Congress does not screen your luggage at the airport — a transportation security officer working for the Department of Homeland Security does!
The Constitution may put the president in charge of making sure the laws get followed, but it’s all these people who carry out laws on behalf of the executive branch.
Click on the link and SCROLL DOWN to see descriptions of all the executive departments. (Watch for a paragraph called The Cabinet. The descriptions start right after that.)
Would you want to be the one to tell the president “no dogs allowed”? Fortunately, nobody has to do that because the White House allows pets! Usually, those pets become as famous as the human members of the first family. In the photo to the right, you see President Gerald Ford with his dog, Liberty, hanging out in the Oval Office (1974).
Click on the link to see what other animals recent presidents have had at the White House!