Diary

Czar Schmar

We have here an excellent lesson in just why it probably won’t work to have a “czar” or other countless outside groups attempting to advise the president at the same time that duly constituted, federal agencies are attempting to do the same thing. They will all jealously fight for turf and, in the end, it’s likely no one will be advising the president because of the turmoil.

Bloomberg has a story today revealing that the panel of economic experts that Obama claimed would advise him on such matters is not working well with Obama’s National Economic Council Director, Lawrence Summers. Former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, Obama’s pick to head this outside group, is, according to Bloomberg, growing “increasingly frustrated” that his economic recovery group is getting no assistance from Obama’s administration.

Volcker is saying he has not even been able to form the advisory group and has been frozen out of any meetings in the White House on economic matters.

Volcker, 81, blames Obama’s National Economic Council Director Lawrence Summers for slowing down the effort to organize the panel of outside advisers, the people said. Summers isn’t regularly inviting Volcker to White House meetings and hasn’t shown interest in collaborating on policy or sharing potential solutions to the economic crisis, they said.

While Summers, a former Treasury secretary, oversees the official White House economic policy apparatus, Obama tapped Volcker for a new Economic Recovery Advisory Board charged with injecting fresh, outside ideas into policy debates.

So much for those “fresh, outside ideas.” If they can’t even get heard, they may as well be screaming those “fresh ideas” from the rooftops in the dark of night. That’ll do them just as much good.

This is just the reason why various and numerous groups standing outside the “apparatus of government” generally have little pull inside it. It’s one thing to have a small handful of such groups constituted for special purposes, but Obama seems to think that it should be de rigeur to have all sorts of “advisory” groups and “czars” advising him at the same time that government agencies and departments are fighting for the same right to be heard by the president.

And, here is the thing: those inside the government hold all the cards. Those outside will be lucky if the president even knows they still exist. The insiders control access to the president and others inside government, control the flow of information, and control meetings. The insiders even control the avenue to the press in many cases.

There is another reason that having dozens of outside advisory groups and legally powerless “czars” will do Obama no good. There is just so much time in a day for Obama to hear from all of these people. The confusion about who is doing what, who has what power, who controls what budget, who needs to see the president… all these supposed advisors mixed in with the official agency leaders will raise the level of cacophony to a din where no one will be heard and Obama will be left in a swirl of competing claims, counter claims, in-fighting and complaints.

It is all a recipe for a president isolated from meaningful advice and a completely paralyzed administration. I also wonder if this habit of constantly looking for another new advisory group every time we turn around will eventually make Obama seem unprepared to make his own decisions?

(Photo credit:depauw.edu)