I first wrote about the potential dangers of President Obama's penchant for naming czars back in January. Then, President Obama's desire to name czars, envoys, and special advisers was much greater than the actual number. Now, the administration has over thirty czars. They include such dubious functions as green jobs, California water, and pay czars. Most of these czars don't even have functions that any fair reading of the Constitution would give the president. For instance, he has a full assembly line, pardon the pun, of czars just to deal with the auto industry. Of course, the president technically has no jurisdiction over the automobiles. He has a Commerce Secretary to deal with commerce, but to deal with cars he has a whole task force.
There are numerous potential problems with all of these czars. First, they need no Congressional confirmation. As such, anyone can become a czar. For instance, the former car czar, Steve Ratner, is under investigation for a pay to play scheme. Had he had to go through a confirmation hearing this would have come out and he likely wouldn't have been confirmed. Instead, the president kept him on board only until the political pressure became so hot that he had to let him go. Second, they don't have to follow the rules that a regular cabinet member or staffer would have to. They don't have to sever their ties with the industry they serve. For instance, Jeffrey Immelt is still the CEO of GE while being on the President's White House Economic Recovery Advisory Board. Does anyone believe, with as much at stake as the CEO of GE would have, that Immelt's advice isn't tainted?
Beyond this, often times these czars hold functions that are already accounted for by the government bureaucratic structure. For instance, after being passed over as CIA director, John Brennan was named Counter Terrorism Czar. Isn't counter terrorism a function of the CIA and the military? Then, there is the Health Czar, Nancy-Ann DeParle. What do we have a Department of Health and Human Services for if we also need a Health Czar? Wouldn't the czar then be rubbing up against the HHS? Remember, the Health Czar doesn't report to HHS. She only reports to the president. So, who exactly is in charge of health care? Former HHS Secretary in the Bush administration, Michael Leavitt, said recently that in the Bush administration some of the similar czars often stepped on his toes when he tried to implement policy.
Then, there's foreign policy. Along with the State Department, President Obama also has envoys to Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East. These two envoys are George Mitchell and Richard Holbrooke, both political heavyweights. This undercuts the authority of the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. In fact, she has been rather silent throughout the administration. The State Department has Deputy Secretaries for the Middle East and Asia. So, why do we also need envoys? More than that, is it the State Department that is making policy in those regions or is it the envoys? No one knows.
So, what we have is a shadow government. It operates outside the system of checks and balances. It has no budget, no office, no bureaucratic structure. No one knows, but the president that is, just how powerful it is. The Congress has no authority for oversight and so this shadow government has free reign, only checked by the very president that created it.
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