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Sunday, January 11, 2009

The lImits and Dangers of Czar Mania

There appear to be at least eight people tapped for the nebulous title of czar in the Obama administration. It's clear that Obama is placing a premium on advice. He wants as many voices as possible in his administration, however with so many voices vying for the President's ear there is serious potential danger ahead.

Only Obama himself knows why he is placing such a premium on advice. It is well known that Obama and other Democrats criticized Bush over and over for placing himself in the so called bubble and so it's possible that he is trying his damndest to do the opposite. The problem with having so many czars is that their responsibilities are unclear and often they interesect with those in the cabinet.

For instance, Carol Browner is the energy czar while Steven Chu is the Secretary of Energy. Now, why would a President need an energy czar if there is already an entire government bureaucracy dedicated to energy? What exactly will a czar do that a bureaucracy of about 16000 people can't? What will happen is that eventually there will be turf wars between the energy czar and the Secretary of Energy. I have already pointed out that Steven Chu is an individual of little managerial experience and it's likely he will then be weak. How long before the nebulous energy czar begins to step on his toes?

Worse yet, is often that turf war disputes are often played out anonymously in the press. You can bet that if and when turf wars begin between all of these czars and the Secretaries of the departments they are attached to those wars will be leaked anonymously into the press. Soon, the administration will look dysfunctional with different factions each taking sides.

There is nothing more dangerous in a government bureaucracy than an individual with an undefined role and an unclear mandate of authority. That's exactly what a czar is. That's because a czar is a creation of each individual President. They aren't supposed to be in the administration and so there isn't a defined role for them. No one can really say what a czar does besides giving the President advice. Yet, isn't that what a Secretary is already supposed to do? Why would President Obama need an energy czar when he has an entire department on energy? Yet, he has created such czars on no less than eight different topics. Each of these folks will soon rub their power up against the power of the selected and confirmed Secretaries. What will follow is a turf war. That turf war will play out in the process and soon enough, the Obama administration will look dysfunctional.

A czar is the most needless position in government. It is the epitome of big government run amok. There are all sorts of dangers in expanding government. In this case, the eventual turf wars that will follow will be the fruition of this set of dangers.

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