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Cabinet Secretary

A Cabinet Secretary is usually a senior official (typically a civil servant) who provides services and advice to a Cabinet of Ministers as part of the Cabinet Office. In many countries, the position can have considerably wider functions and powers, including general responsibility for the entire civil service.

The Cabinet Secretary was a former title conferred on an Australian minister responsible for assisting the Prime Minister to manage the day-to-day procedural and operational matters of the Cabinet and any Cabinet committees. As per all other ministers in the Westminster system, the Cabinet Secretary was a sitting member of Parliament, chosen by the Prime Minister and officially appointed by the Governor-General. The Cabinet Secretary was a portfolio minister of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and existed at various stages between 2007 and 2017, when the position was abolished.

The position of Director was first established in 2002 as part of the 'Principal Officials Accountability System', and it was not clear whether it was a politically appointed or a civil service position. Nevertheless, its salary level was tied to that of permanent secretaries (Point 8 of the Directorate Payscale) instead of that of politically appointed secretaries. The first office holder Lam Woon Kwong was a civil servant who opted for early retirement directly from this position in January 2005; and therefore did not subsequently take up any civil service or politically appointed position. Lam was not the most senior Administrative Officer and the position did not provide him any seniority over other permanent secretaries.

The Cabinet Secretariat ensures that the President of India, the Vice-President and Ministers are kept informed of the major activities of all Departments by means of a monthly summary of their activities. Management of major crisis situations in the country and coordinating activities of the various Ministries in such a situation is also one of the functions of the Cabinet Secretariat.

In the Republic of Ireland, the position of Cabinet Secretary is officially titled Secretary-General to the Government (previously titled Secretary to the Government), and is concurrently Secretary-General of the Department of the Taoiseach, somewhat analogous to the Cabinet Office in the United Kingdom. This department provides the secretariat to the Cabinet and co-ordinates the Government Press Office. It also has some policy functions with regard to key areas such as Northern Ireland, economic policy, and public service modernisation. The role is modeled on, and is broadly similar to, the UK equivalent, though in recent times has become more constrained by the seven year time limit placed on Secretaries General in the mid-1990s following the introduction of the Strategic Management Initiative.

In Japan, the office of Chief Cabinet Secretary has been made into a ministerial post, being held by a member of the House of Representatives. This is unusual, as most countries give the position to a civil servant. The Chief Cabinet Secretary performs much the same role as other Cabinet Secretaries, however he or she is responsible for overseeing the administrative operations of Cabinet, and presiding over the Cabinet Secretariat. The post has the added function of being the government's chief press secretary.

From 1981 to 2011, the position of Cabinet Secretary has been combined with the roles of Head of the Home Civil Service and Permanent Secretary of the Cabinet Office. The first means that the Cabinet Secretary is responsible for all the civil servants of the various departments within government (except the Foreign Office), chairing the Permanent Secretaries Management Group (PSMG) which is the principal governing body of the civil service. The second means that the Cabinet Secretary is responsible for leading the government department that provides administrative support to the Prime Minister and Cabinet. The post is appointed by the Prime Minister with the advice of the out-going Cabinet Secretary and the First Civil Service Commissioner.

The responsibilities of the job vary from time to time and depend very much on the personal qualities of both the Prime Minister and Cabinet Secretary of the day. In most cases the true influence of the Cabinet Secretary extends far beyond administrative matters, and reaches to the very heart of the decision making process. For instance, the Cabinet Secretary is responsible for administering the Ministerial Code which governs the conduct of ministers (also known as the Rule Book and formerly Questions of Procedure for Ministers). In this duty the Cabinet Secretary may be asked to investigate leaks within government, and enforce Cabinet discipline. This gives the unelected Cabinet Secretary some authority over elected ministers (a situation satirised in the BBC sitcom Yes, Prime Minister).

Following the 2007 General Election of the devolved Scottish Parliament, the new First Minister Alex Salmond restyled the Scottish Executive for his Scottish National Party (SNP) administration: The term Scottish Government replaced the official legal term Scottish Executive in its own use, while members of the cabinet were retitled Cabinet Secretaries rather than Ministers, with sub-cabinet members being restyled Ministers rather than Deputy-Ministers.

In the United States, there is an official called the Cabinet Secretary within the Executive Office of the President charged with maintaining relations between members of the Cabinet and the White House. The position is not a civil service position, instead being subject to presidential appointment. The current Cabinet Secretary is Bill McGinley.

However, the term "Cabinet Secretary" is also sometimes used in a generic sense to refer to one of the members of the United States Cabinet, as these people are titled Secretary (e.g., Secretary of State or Secretary of Defense). This usage is not official, and differs from the use in other countries.