By Marshall Garvey
When one looks at how the American presidency functions today, it seems like an overwhelming task. Aside from having to be ready to handle crises and address a complex array of entrenched issues, the president also has to steer an enormous bureaucracy, with 17 federal cabinets alone. Furthermore, they’re required to address the federal budget annually—this year’s total expenditures exceeding $3 trillion.
Everyone who has occupied the Oval Office since 1974 can thank President Nixon for creating the organizational infrastructure that addresses these vital functions day to day. According to Shirley Anne Warshaw, author of The Domestic Presidency: Policy Making in the White House. “Having a structured domestic policy unit is itself a modern occurrence beginning with Richard Nixon, who was the first president to formally create a domestic policy office within the White House.”
President Nixon was able to accomplish this in his second year of office, citing an urgent need to reform the presidency to keep up with the rapid growth of the size of government over the past 30 years. Indeed, the federal budget had gone from less than $10 billion to $200 billion during that time, with four new cabinet departments, various other agencies, and an increase in civilian employees from 1 million to 2.5 million.
To address these changes as prudently as possible, President Nixon created two new offices. The first was the Domestic Council, which involved the President, Vice President, Attorney General, and Secretaries of the Treasury, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Health, Education and Welfare, Housing and Urban Development, and Transportation, as well as any other pertinent agencies the President deemed fit. The purpose of this council was to integrate all aspects of domestic policy into a more coherent whole.
The second agency was the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Created to impose budgetary accountability after the runaway spending of the 1960s, the OMB also helped the President prepare an annual federal budget and oversee all government expenditures. As President Nixon put it, “The Domestic Council will be primarily concerned with what we do; the Office of Management and Budget will be primarily concerned with how we do it, and how well we do it.”
Indeed, every president since President Nixon has maintained his streamlined approach to handling daily government affairs. No matter what policies an administration focuses on, the efficiency provided by the Domestic Council and OMB will continue to ensure they have the means necessary to realize them.