Obama's Czars: What Are They and How Much Power Do They Wield?

Watch White House Correspondent Wendell Goler's five-part series on czars on Fox News Channel Saturday, July 18 at the following times:
What is a Czar?, 12pm ET
Czars and Management, 1pm ET
The Constitutional Ramifications of Czars, 4pm ET
Czars: How Much Power?, 5pm ET
Czars: the Successes and Failures, 6pm ET
Or view them any time at: http://www.foxnews.com/specialreport/



Merriam Webster online defines a 'czar' as "the ruler of Russia until the 1917 revolution." But it's the dictionary's alternate definition, "one having great power or authority", that has ruffled many a feather lately.

While the term 'czar' is unofficial, the prevalence of such executive posts in President Obama's administration has gotten noticed.

The administration has nearly three dozen czars. While some of those jobs are actually mandated by congress, others are entirely new creations of Mr. Obama.

Although analysts note it's not likely all of the czars get face time with the commander-in-chief-- only ten actually report directly to the president-- they say the executive branch does have the feeling of top-heaviness.

"When you start adding in of course all the cabinet secretaries, you add in all these different czars, you add in chiefs of staff, you add in communication directors, press secretaries and so forth, I think the number probably is getting closer to a hundred," says management expert and Leadership Professor at The George Washington University, James Bailey.

It's not just the size of the czar fleet that has irked members of congress, it's the concern over being taken out of equation.

Maine Senator Susan Collins lamented the potential demise of the president's promise of transparency, "By creating these czars that are insulated from accountability, whose work is not transparent, he's moving in exactly opposite direction."

Others see their concerns through a political sphere; when a majority party has more platforms with which to wield its authority, the concerns of the minority are relegated, they say.

But even some in the country's majority party find fault. Democratic Senator Robert Byrd expressed his frustration over the czar issue in a letter to President Obama, writing, "the rapid and easy accumulation of power by White House staff can threaten the Constitutional system of checks and balances."

The term czar, by the way, is one rarely uttered by Mr. Obama or his aides, unless they are trying to correct its use. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has been known to alter the terminology, "If there's a marketing czar, I've failed to get his or her memo."

However it started, the term czar seems to have stuck; at least, inside the Washington beltway.

What exactly does a czar do, though? Bailey describes the job this way, "A czar supposedly would have accountability for something. That is, they are charged with delivering something specific."

Presidential scholar Kathryn Dunn Tenpas says, "I think most of their power derives from their relationship with the president. And that's largely because czars are really sort of a creation of presidents and their personal predilections and their desire to sort of show that they care about an issue."

In some instances, czars bypass Senate confirmation.

Georgia Congressman Jack Kingston spells out the dangers he sees in this equation, "It's almost like the president is building a parallel government, one that's in the constitution and then one that is outside of the constitution and the authority of congress."Additionally, some say


the responsibilities the president gave his czars might have been duties filled by cabinet secretaries in past administrations. O

ne way to be a successful czar, experts note, is to have accountability, a specific mission, and a set amount of time in which to accomplish it.Former auto czar Steve Rattner, otherwise known as the top advisor on the auto industry's bailout, got GM and Chrysler in and out of bankruptcy in record time.
Some of the more established czar positions are the drug czar, the science czar and the domestic violence czar. More recently, Mr. Obama added an auto czar to the mix and even an urban affairs czar, much to the chagrin of rural community advocates.



Perhaps its just a semantics issue that gets some people so riled up. The czar term seems to carry with it a negative connotation in Washington. Ironically, the man at the center of the czar battle himself was caught using the term, if somewhat reluctantly.

In announcing the presence at a recent event of Office of National Drug Control Policy Director

R. Gil Kerlikowske, President Obama hesitated, "...as well as our new director of our office of-- I always forget the full name of this thing. I call it the Drug Czar."So, perhaps it's just easier to say certain titles. Presidential scholar Martha Joynt Kumar tells us about "the case of an official who's called the border czar, now border czar, that has 10 letters, but he really is 'assistant secretary for international affairs and special representative for border affairs.' that's 81 letters."