White House "Czars" - Are They Working?


On Sunday, John McCain appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union”, called on the Obama Administration to create the position of “Ebola Czar”. He’s looking for an official point person within the federal government who is “handling” the presence and, I’m assuming, eradication of Ebola in the United States. The title of “Czar” isn’t an official one and its definition isn’t clear. While some of the Czars are appointed directly by the White House, there are others who have been confirmed by the Senate. Essentially, a White House Czar is a person who oversees a particular administrative policy, typically across multiple government administrative offices.

“The earliest known use of the term for a U.S. government official was in the administration of Franklin Roosevelt (1933–1945), during which eleven unique positions (or twelve if one were to count “Economic Czar” and “Economic Czar of World War II” as separate) were so described. The term was revived, mostly by the press, to describe officials in the Nixon and Ford administrations and continues today.” (Wikipedia) “The evolution of a White House staff to develop and coordinate administration policies is nothing new, to be sure. Every president in modern times has recognized the need to appoint trusted political and policy advisers. Cabinet government is no longer considered a practical model. Cabinet secretaries, after all, have their own departments to run. Presidents need smart, capable and fiercely loyal people to assist them daily in implementing their campaign promises.

However, the bigger the White House policy apparatus becomes, the more Congress is suspicious of the policies being devised, offended they’ve been left out of the loop and outraged about being denied information essential to good oversight. The reason for this is that non-confirmable presidential advisers are protected by the doctrine of executive privilege from having to disclose anything to Congress. Policy czars are anathema to Congress.”  (Wilson Center)

Policy czars are anathema to Congress.

Governmental policies start out as broadly applied ideas meant to solve a problem by informing, gaining acceptance and agreement which leads to a certain outcome as defined and enforced by the applicable government.  Additional policies are created to define how the overarching policy is implemented. A governmental policy is like a city-wide, state-wide or even nation-wide goal. Because policies often lead to regulations and laws, people will use these terms interchangeably. These policies are expected to work within the frame of the state and federal Constitution. Policies that come from the Executive Branch are often managed by White House Policy Czars.

As of today, there are approximately 28 to 32 to 45+ White House Czars, depending on the source. Here is an incomplete list from Wikipedia:

  • Faith-based Czar aka Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships
  • AIDS Czar aka Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy
  • Information (technology) czar aka Chief Information Officer at the White House
  • Asian Carp Czar aka Asian Carp Director, Council on Environmental Quality
  • Ethics Czar or Transparency Czar aka White House Counsel AND Special Counsel to the President for Ethics and Government Reform (Two people)
  • Consumer Czar aka Special Advisor for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
  • Copyright Czar aka Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator
  • Auto or Car Czar aka Senior Advisor President’s Automotive Task Force
  • Auto recovery or Autoworker Czar aka Member Presidential Task Force on the Auto Industry, Director of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers
  • Border Czar aka Assistant Secretary for International Affairs, Special Representative for Border Affairs, Dept of Homeland Security,
  • Compensation or Gulf Claims or Pay Czar aka Special Master for TARP Executive Compensation
  • Cyber Security Czar aka Director of the White House Office of Cybersecurity, Cybersecurity Coordinator
  • Drug Czar aka Director, National Drug Control Policy
  • Great Lakes Czar aka Senior Advisor to the EPA Administrator
  • Guantanamo Base Closure Czar aka US Department of State Special Envoy
  • Health Czar aka Director of the White House Office of Health Reform and Counselor to the President
  • Iran Czar aka Special Advisor for the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia (which includes Iran)
  • Manufacturing Czar aka Senior Counselor for Manufacturing Policy
  • Middle East Czar aka Special Envoy for Middle East Peace
  • Performance Czar aka United States Chief Performance Officer and Deputy Director for Management at the Office of Management and Budget
  • Regulatory Czar aka Director of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs Office of Management and Budget
  • Science Czar aka Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy
  • Technology Czar aka Associate Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Chief Technology Officer (CTO), Assistant to the President
  • Bank Bailout or TARP Czar aka United States Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Financial Stability
  • Weapons of Mass Destruction or Nonproliferation Czar aka Special Assistant to the President and White House Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction, Proliferation, and Terrorism
  • Climate or Energy or Global Warming Czar aka Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change
  • AfPak or Afghanistan & Pakistan Czar aka Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan

And the list goes on. Some of these Czars are cabinet-level offices. Most of them are specific policy-based offices with their own staff. The Asian Carp and Great Lakes Czars are especially specific in their focus and deal with different issues.

Asian Carp: “The Administration has invested more than $200 million dollars to protect the Great Lakes from Asian carp and created the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee (ACRCC) in 2009 in an unprecedented and effective effort to coordinate Federal, State and local efforts to combat the invasive species. ” – White House Press Release, 2013.

Great Lakes: “Cameron Davis, leader of a Chicago-based environmentalist group, has been appointed to oversee President Barack Obama’s initiative to clean up the Great Lakes. He was appointed by Lisa Jackson, head of the Environmental Protection Agency. He will coordinate efforts of about a dozen federal agencies working on the administration’s Great Lakes project, which deals with issues such as invasive species, polluted harbors, sewage overflows and degraded wildlife habitat. During the campaign last year, Obama pledged $5 billion over a decade toward implementing the plan. His proposed 2010 budget seeks $475 million in new spending on the lakes. Earlier this year, Obama named J. Charles Fox to a similar post, directing restoration of the Chesapeake Bay.” – Huffington Post, June 4, 2009. Sidenote: There were already 140 different programs dealing with the Great Lakes & its environment.

Here’s one, the Office of the Special Master for TARP Executive Compensation (aka, TARP Pay Czar), which Patricia Geoghegan has led since 2011. This office is meant to evaluate and determine the top-level executive compensation at companies who received TARP money. There’s also the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Trouble Asset Relief Program — which keeps tabs on taxpayer bailouts. So, there is (was?) a Special Master for TARP Executive Compensation with it’s very own Special Inspector General for TARP? The government is never-ending.

All of these czars with their own budgets along with all of the resulting policies, programs, rules and regulations beg the question: How effective are the White House Czars? And, how would we know? The challenge with administrative policies is that they rarely have measurable outcomes. And if they do have measurable outcomes, typically the voter is not the one setting them. Worse – it’s the government who is providing the data and measuring the outcomes. What hope do taxpayers and voters have in shrinking an ever growing government if we can’t even know what’s working and what’s not, especially when one government office is “auditing” the other?

So, the White House Czars – are they working? Honestly, that’s anyone’s guess.

Originally posted on Laura’s blog: Right Straight from the Heart

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