Obama’s Five Best Cabinet Secretaries

In a sea of underperforming cabinet bosses, well-run second-tier agencies rise to the top-five list.


A little over one year in office, and President Obama's cabinet is starting to shake out. An unusual few department bosses are turning out to be more important than under previous presidents.

[See a slide show of Obama's 5 best cabinet secretaries.] 

Typically, State, Treasury, and Defense lead the pack, followed by Commerce. But under Obama, Treasury has fallen way down to what many believe is the bottom of the list of influential cabinet agencies, in large part because of Secretary Timothy Geithner's troubles and all the talk that he might be replaced. 

We polled many Whispers associates and sources, and they were quick to size up the top five Obama cabinet members. On all lists, at the top was holdover Defense Secretary Bob Gates. Quiet and focused, he has his fingers in many aspects of Obama's policy and is most known for settling down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and working to lead the Haitian aid effort. Second on virtually everybody's list is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is working to fix the nation's image abroad and, more specifically, keep the focus on Iran's bid to build a nuke. 

The shift in who's on top under Obama is a great story for three agencies that typically get stuck in the second tier: Transportation, Education, and Veterans Affairs. That's because all three secretaries are bringing new energy to the stodgy posts. Third on our list is Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. He is in charge of doling out tons of stimulus money, and he's heading the government's parent-friendly campaign to stop texting while driving. Fourth is Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who's also spending stimulus funds and who's putting his attention on teacher quality even if the unions object. And finally, at fifth is Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, who has turned an agency that is at the bottom of lists in past administrations into an example of how to bring federal services to the troops, injured veterans, and even homeless vets. He's showing that the VA has a heart.  

  • See a slide show of the best cabinet bosses.
  • See a gallery of political caricatures.
  • See the members of Obama's inner circle.