Obama's Army of Czars Raises Concerns About Executive Power

Candidate Barack Obama criticized President Bush for trying to increase executive power. Now President Obama finds himself the target of similar criticism as his growing army of czars raises concerns and questions about his authority.

Candidate Obama's complaints were usually about Bush excluding Congress from national security and civil liberty matters. But Republicans say his czars are shutting Congress out of health care and environmental issues.

By some accounts, there are close to three dozen so-called czars in the Obama administration, managing everything from closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility to ending the genocide in Darfur, though the White House is reluctant to use the term "czar."

Former Health Secretary Mike Leavitt says Obama has too many cooks in his kitchen, weakening the authority of his Cabinet.

Yet billionaire investor Steve Forbes says Obama's czars don't have much power.

"If you don't have bureaucracy behind you, if you don't have a massive budget behind you, you have a nice title, 'czar', but you're in effect a eunuch," he said.

Still, presidential scholar Kathryn Dunn Tenpas says that's not always the case.

"I think most of their power derives from their relationship with the president," she said.

One of the early czars was Henry Kissinger, who as President Nixon's national security advisor often bypassed the secretaries of State and Defense.

None of Obama's czars enjoys that kind of power, but it may not take that much power for a czar to get in the way.

Leavitt says former President Bush's AIDS czar and his food safety czar often trod on his turf.

"Both of them did, and actually these were different from the so-called czars inside the White House," he said. "They typically did not work in the White House."

Tax problems kept former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle from becoming health secretary and director of health reform and by extension the most powerful czar.

Instead, the president named a separate health secretary and health czar.

Some of his czars, like the intelligence czar and the drug czar are positions mandated by Congress. Some of the czars Obama created, like chief performance officer Jeffrey Zients, are new jobs added to existing positions.

"Instead of having that become a White House staff person, he dual-hatted it with a position that's already senatorially confirmed: the deputy director for management of OMB," said Kathryn Dunn Tenpas of the Brookings Institution.