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John Block: Cabinet Meetings

We all know that Republicans and Democrats are at each others’ throats and we can’t seem to get anything done. It also appears that President Obama has not demonstrated the kind of leadership to move things along. No one wants to take responsibility. Sometimes, “the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.”

We have read about and seen on TV some excuses for this dysfunction, but I want to point out one thing – not the only thing, but a serious shortcoming.

From what I can find out, this Administration and this President almost never have full Cabinet meetings. Why is this important? How can the President – how can a city mayor – how can a company keep the team together to accomplish a mission if the team doesn’t come together to make sure everyone understands the mission and the leader’s marching orders?

President Ronald Reagan had full Cabinet meetings almost every other week. If some Department wanted to push a project, that Cabinet Member would have to sell his idea to the President and the whole Cabinet. I remember in December 1984, I presented to the President and Cabinet my plan for the 1985 farm bill. Most of what I proposed was accepted by most Cabinet Members. The one idea that didn’t survive that meeting was my recommendation to start a conservation reserve. David Stockman (Office of Management and Budget) said it cost too much. A few months later, we found the money to put it back in the bill. The point is that everyone was on the same page. I could present my plan to the Congress, and I did – day after day – both sides of the aisle. They knew that the President and the whole Cabinet was behind it.

President Reagan came to the Department of Agriculture where we did a TV interview discussion on the farm bill and other issues. I’ll bet Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack would love to have that kind of opportunity with President Obama. Good luck. President Obama has been too isolated in the White House with his in-house team.

Next week, I will report on the annual Cabinet Secretaries luncheon, which I chair.

John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill.

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