Picking a Team

Team Kennedy

President-elect Kennedy devoted much effort in developing a top notch transition team. It was important to him to have both experienced cabinet officers, as well people he could trust. His most controversial appointment was making his brother Attorney General.


Now that he had been elected President, Kennedy had to start building a team. Kennedy did not come to the job unprepared. Months before he had requested Washington lawyer Clark Clifford to develop a plan for the transition. At the same time, Columbia Professor Richard Neustadt was preparing a similar report for the Jackson transition committee of the Senate. The two reports complimented each other. Thus, Kennedy had a blueprint from which to work. He appointed Clifford to liaison with the Eisenhower administration. One of his first actions, after being elected, was to ask Allen Dulles to head the CIA and J. Edgar Hoover to remain as the Director of the FBI. His challenge was then to pick outstanding cabinet officials. President Kennedy stated early in the cabinet search: " For the last four years I spent so much time getting to know people who could help me get elected President, I didn€™t have any time to get to know people who would help me, after I was elected to be a good President. " Kennedy chose Robert McNamara to be the Secretary of Defense. McNamara was the President of Ford Motor Company. He complained to the President-Elect that he knew nothing about government and his knowledge of the military was limited to what he had learned as a serviceman during World War II. Kennedy answered that he knew very little about how to be President, and that they would learn together. For Secretary of State, Kennedy picked Dean Rusk, the President of the Rockefeller Foundation. At his first interview with the President, Rusk asked Kennedy if he was planning to make Adlai Stevenson Secretary of State. Kennedy replied that Stevenson might forget who was President!

For the post of Secretary of the Treasury, Kennedy requested that Douglas Dillon, Eisenhower's Secretary of Treasury remain in the position, thus providing assurance for the financial markets.

For Secretary of Agriculture, Kennedy chose Minnesota Governor, Orville Freeman and for Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, Governor Abraham Ribicoff of Connecticut. Ribicoff had been a well-respected governor, and an early supporter of Kennedy.

For Commerce, Kennedy chose Governor Luther Hodges of North Carolina. Kennedy selected California businessman, J. Edward Day as US Postmaster General.

The position of Secretary of Labor went to New York labor lawyer, Arthur Goldberg. That left the Justice Department. The most difficult question for Kennedy to answer was what position to assign to his brother, Robert. He had run the President's campaign, and was without doubt the President's closest advisor. Kennedy finally decided to appoint his brother as Attorney General. It was an unprecedented move for a brother to be appointed to the cabinet, but Kennedy was willing to take the heat for this decision. The average age of the Kennedy cabinet was 47 years, a full ten years younger than the cabinet they were replacing. With the exception of his brother, all the cabinet members were practically strangers.

The President had a list of 1,200 appointments to be made, sub-cabinet, as well as, White House positions and other government jobs. Sargent Shriver was placed in charge of a committee to make suggestions to fill the appointments.

The next task was choosing the White House staff. Harvard's McGeorge Bundy became the National Security Advisor. His assistant was Walt Rostow. Kennedy's closest aid remained Theodore Sorenson, who had worked with him since his Congressional days. He became Chief Speechwriter, as well as, the coordinator of domestic affairs. Pierre Salinger was appointed to be White House Press Secretary. Evelyn Lincoln, Kennedy's long-time personal secretary, continued in this role. Professor Walter Heller became the head of the President's Council of Economic Advisors and Ken O€™Donnell became his Appointments Secretary. Other special assistants included: Lawrence O€™Brien, Richard Goodwin, Myer Feldman and Ralph Dungan.

A few weeks after the inauguration, Arthur Schlesinger joined the White House staff.