The appointees and others named in recent weeks mark a departure for Obama, who stocked his first-term Cabinet with politicos but has recruited more business executives and other outsiders for his last four years.
The new nominees are expected to play an expanded role in helping develop executive actions and other policy initiatives, according to officials who detailed the second-term plans.
In Obama’s first term, White House officials made most policy decisions and only occasionally turned to the “outer Cabinet” for ideas, such as environmental regulations. But as he signaled in his State of the Union address last month, Obama is extending his reach by relying more heavily on peripheral appointees to develop ideas and take action.
“There’s more appetite, particularly where there might be some ideas that may be moved forward under existing authority, to listen to people with the experience in these Cabinet agencies,” said John D. Podesta, a White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton who ran Obama’s 2009 transition and still informally advises the president and his senior staff.
Podesta added, “That emphasis on using that full suite of power and authority and having initiatives coming from the Cabinet secretaries themselves to move the ball up the field is really important.”
The White House will remain the center of gravity on major policy decisions, including top legislative priorities such as immigration and gun control, officials said.
But climate change is one policy area where new Cabinet members are likely to exert added influence, officials said. Because the administration is determined to maximize its executive authority without having to seek the approval of a bitterly divided Congress, agency heads will focus on developing new policies and implementing changes.
Relations between the White House and the Cabinet were badly frayed during Obama’s first term, when agency chiefs complained that White House officials micromanaged their departments and were unwilling to accept their policy input.
The White House embraced a few superstars, such as Education Secretary Arne Duncan, an Obama friend, but others complained that they were not made to feel as if they were part of the team.
Stephen Hess, a presidential scholar at the Brookings Institution, said empowering his second-term Cabinet secretaries “would be a reversal of form for this president in particular, but for recent presidents as well.”