Published July 13, 2009
President Obama might have slipped Monday, when he introduced Gil Kerlikowske as his "drug czar" while speaking to an urban policy group in Washington.
Kerlikowske's real title is director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. The administration generally rejects the term "czar" as a media-generated buzzword.
But as the so-called "czars" keep piling up, it's raising serious questions about how powerful these White House insiders are and seems to make the term "czar" all the more appropriate.
By some accounts, there are close to three dozen czars in the Obama administration, managing everything from closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility to ending the genocide in Darfur.
With Steve Rattner leaving as head of the administration's auto task force, just days after General Motors emerged from bankruptcy, America will get a new auto czar -- former steelworkers union official Ron Bloom.
The White House routinely fends off claims that Obama has named too many czars.
"If there's a marketing czar, I've failed to get his or her memo," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs joked.
But what is a czar? No matter what you call them, these officials generally are seen to have special influence on the specific topic to which they are assigned.
"A czar supposedly would have accountability for something. That is, they are charged with delivering something specific," said George Washington University professor James Bailey, adding that their authority often crosses Cabinet boundaries.
But such cross-Cabinet posts stand as a testament to government inefficiency, Fortune magazine editor Steve Forbes said.
"It underscores the inefficiency of government that you keep ... having people, hoping that maybe they will get something done that the massive government bureaucracy cannot," he said.
By some definitions, a czar reports directly to the president and does not require Senate confirmation.
Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., likens these officials to part of a parallel government, "one that is outside of the Constitution and the authority of Congress."
There are fewer than a dozen czars in what Kingston calls the "parallel government," but Obama and Vice President Biden are responsible for more than half of them.
In addition to Browner and health care reform czar Nancy-Ann DeParle, presidential executive orders created an urban affairs czar and a chief technology czar this year.
And Biden, while he was in the Senate, sponsored legislation that gave us the drug czar, the science czar and the domestic violence czar.
FOX News' Wendell Goler contributed to this report.