Shortly after Barack Obama's Presidential Inauguration in January of 2009, the White House moved to name numerous high-ranking officials to oversee top policy priorities of the executive branch. These leading appointees, popularly known as “czars,” are specialists in fields ranging from health care to the automobile industry and have been handed a tremendous degree of personal political discretion. Indeed, this reserve of power has motivated many Americans and media outlets to voice their anxiety.
Since the founding of the country, the United States' system of checks and balances has allowed the President to appoint cabinet secretaries to act as his expert advisors. It is important to note, however, that Article II, Section II of the Constitution stipulates that these cabinet secretaries earn their posts with the “Advice and Consent of the Senate.” In other words, the President cannot delegate executive power to whomever he chooses. The Founders, however, realized that the President’s need for help would grow as time passed, and allowed the President to select “inferior Officers” who could be appointed without Senate confirmation.
As the United States grew, so did the appointment of presidential “inferior Officers.” In all likelihood, the reference to these “inferior Officers” as “czars” was first established when President Woodrow Wilson named financier Bernard Baruch as the head of the War Industries Board. Baruch dubbed himself the “Industry Czar,” referencing the last Russian monarch, Nicholas II, who had been usurped during the 1917 Revolution. With the expansion of the American bureaucracy during the Great Depression and World War II, Franklin Roosevelt followed Wilson’s lead and created several more “czar” positions. Subsequent presidential administrations – including those of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush – followed their lead. Recent attention to this subject, however, has been raised by claims that President Obama’s administration houses over thirty-two "czars."
Americans recognize that the President must be surrounded with expert help in order to properly execute his office, but the ambiguity and unchecked power potential of the “czar” position is disconcerting to many. Indeed, reports of internal fighting and bureaucratic overlap amongst cabinet secretaries and administrative “czars” only serve to further worry Americans who wish to maintain the separation of powers established by the Constitution.
With this in mind, this topic traces the evolution of the American “czar” and the centralization of power in the White House. Furthermore, this topic addresses the potential benefits, problems, and constitutional issues that the presidential use of “czars” poses for the United States.