Observers worry White House 'czars' have too much power

Do President Obama's White House "czars" have too much power? Should they face Senate confirmation? These concerns have been raised by a growing number of observers as the president's team of czars continues to expand.

Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., sent a letter to Obama on Feb. 23, cautioning that "the rapid and easy accumulation of power by the White House staff can threaten the constitutional system of checks and balances." He urged the president to limit the power of these high-level White House officials who are not cleared by Congress.

In the Washington Post this week, Yale law and political science professor Bruce Ackerman went a step further, arguing that czars should in fact undergo Senate confirmation. Ackerman noted that if Tom Daschle had been appointed only to the health czar post and not as Health and Human Services secretary, his tax problems might never have surfaced and he would be well on his way to leading the charge for health care reform. Furthermore, Ackerman wrote, while HHS Secretary-designate Kathleen Sebelius goes through Senate confirmation, her White House counterpart, Nancy-Ann DeParle, will "escape scrutiny" despite the fact that "DeParle will also play a commanding role in health care reform, and her record is less well known than that of Sebelius."

In an interview with Lost In Transition, Ackerman reiterated his concerns. "The idea of appointing a large number of czars -- loyalists to the president -- is like a king's courtship," he said. "They're highly intelligent, and they're 100 percent loyal to the president, and [he] never has to justify their selection to anybody else."

Ackerman emphasized that no particular Obama appointment compelled him to write the piece. But he said that this president's increased use of czars, coupled with former Vice President Dick Cheney's powerful "policy czar" role in the Bush administration, indicate a disturbing trend in the executive branch. "The creation of this hyper-politicized staff in the White House is both an example and a caution about the uses and abuses of the president's power," Ackerman said.

On the other hand, Ackerman also acknowledged that the Senate confirmation process itself is "self-indulgent" and convoluted. "The Senate has to get much more serious and professional about this," he said. "It's horrible to have a government for six months that simply has most high-policy positions vacant. It's just unacceptable."

Check out the blog Lost in Transition, a joint effort of Government Executive and National Journal.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

    Download
  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

    Download
  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

    Download
  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

    Download
  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

    Download
  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

    Download
  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.