News & Politics

John Bryson Isn’t the Only Cabinet Member You Don’t Know

As a reported double hit-and-run thrusts the Secretary of Commerce into the national spotlight, we round up a few more of Obama’s under-the-radar Cabinet members.

If you’re like most Washingtonians today, you woke up to surprising news about
President Obama’s Cabinet—not so much that
John Bryson was allegedly involved in a
bizarre hit-and-run in

but mainly that Bryson is, evidently, the US Secretary of

The onetime cofounder of the Natural Resources Defense Council turned utility executive replaced
Gary Locke last year, when Locke became the US ambassador to China.

Bryson has maintained a low profile since, keeping with the tradition of President Obama’s Cabinet writ large, which, apart
from a few high-profile names—
Hillary Clinton and, until last year,
Robert Gates—has been mostly anonymous. That phenomenon is actually the subject of a new essay in the July issue of
Vanity Fair by experienced Washington observer
Todd Purdum, who wrote about how Obama’s
Cabinet hasn’t exactly lived up to its once-vaunted “team of rivals”

Here are six other people you’ll be surprised to know are in Barack Obama’s Cabinet:

Ray LaHood.

Secretary of Transportation
Ray LaHood

LaHood, a former Illinois congressman, checked off the
“Republican appointee” slot in Obama’s
The transportation czar has been extremely low-profile in
Washington. He’s even a mystery to the folks at 1600 Pennsylvania
Avenue: I stood behind him last year in line to enter the White
House, and he had to show his ID not once, but twice, to get
past the guards at the gate. Perhaps his biggest scandal as
secretary? He didn’t know what a hipster was. 

Erik K. Shinseki

Secretary of Veteran Affairs
Eric K. Shinseki

Even though his office is right across the street from
the White House, the retired Army
ranks as one of the Cabinet officials who has visited the White
House the least

Shinseki has been doing yeoman’s work trying to raise the
profile of veterans’ issues in a country struggling (and largely
failing) to meet the needs of a decade’s worth of soldiers
returning from two wars. Just in the past few weeks, he teamed
up with Housing and Urban Development Secretary
Shaun Donovan (yes! another Cabinet member!)
to say the government isn’t on track to meet its deadline of ending
veterans’ homelessness.

Tom Vilsak.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack

The former Iowa governor has only had one major turn in the Washington spotlight during his three years heading the USDA:
the debacle surrounding the firing of
Shirley Sherrod
after a selectively edited video
surfaced that appeared to show her making racist comments at a
After that experience, maybe Vilsack is lucky he’s once again
faded into the background.

Eric Holder.

Attorney General Eric Holder

Okay, it’s not so surprising that Holder is the head
of the Department of Justice—it’s just surprising he’s lasted as long
as he has. His first months were

and few people would have bet that Holder would, at least at
this point, appear on track to survive until the end of President
Obama’s term. According to
Daniel Klaidman‘s new book, Holder came close

He’s evidently had some dramatic fights with the White House,

Lisa Jackson.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson

Yes, actually the EPA counts as a “Cabinet-level” post, although Jackson isn’t included in the presidential line of succession.
A chemical engineer by training, Jackson is the first African-American to be the head of the 17,000-strong EPA.

Karen Mills.

Small Business Administrator Chief Karen Mills

One of the only reshuffles President Obama has made in
his Cabinet involved the January elevation of the SBA to


as part of a broader push to streamline the way government
supports the private sector by combining the Commerce Department,
the SBA, the semi-controversial of late Export-Import

the Office of the United States Trade Representative (which
also has Cabinet rank), the Overseas Private Investment Corporation,
and the Trade and Development Agency. Confused? So are most
business leaders.

Photographs courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.