Questions Raised About Effectiveness of Obama's Czars

Vice President Biden coined the term drug czar in the early 1980s, so it's fitting he swore in the nation's sixth one, Gil Kerlikowske, this year. But no one really expects Kerlikowske to solve the drug problem.

"We've had a drug czar for years," said Stephen Hess, a presidential scholar at the Brookings Institution. "Have you noticed any major coordination, improvement and better programs because of him?"

By some accounts, there are nearly three dozen so-called czars in the Obama administration, managing everything from closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility to ending the genocide in Darfur.

President Obama's named an urban affairs czar and a domestic violence czar who presidential scholar Kathryn Dunn Tenpas says may be less problem solvers than symbols of concern.

"To a lot of constituents and interest groups, it might be deemed a success that he's actually even appointed a czar because it shows that he, President Obama, cares about the issue."

But czars in past administrations argue they've been effective.

Millennium bug czar John Koskinen says former President Bill Clinton's marching orders were simple.

"He gave me an office and said don't let the world stop, and then left me on my own," he said.

Two years before the big ball fell in Times Square, Koskinen set about making sure computers that had been counting the years upward in digit form didn't crash and cause problems for others when the date changed from 99 to 00.

He says the key was recruiting Cabinet secretaries as partners, not giving them orders.

"The expertise and the people who are able to give you the background information you want are all lodged in those agencies," he said.

Experts say one recipe for a successful czar is accountability for a specific task in a set amount of time and it helps to have bipartisan support.

Car Czar Steven Rattner got GM and Chrysler in and out of bankruptcy in record time. But now Ron Bloom has replaced him, with the less-defined job of looking after the government's investment in the companies.

The president's energy and environment czar, Carol Browner, has very little bipartisan support. Health reform czar Nancy Ann DeParle may have even less and she wasn't Obama's first choice.

A tax problem forced former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle to withdraw his nomination to be health secretary and health czar and now the issue's bogged down on Capitol Hill where Daschel would have had a lot of influence.

It may be the president's determination to take on big problems doesn't lend itself to using czars.

"If it's a small category, a one time, one shot deal, the chances of success might be deemed to be higher than if it's a broader issue that's just very complex," Koskine said.