The President's Tsars, Czars, and Tzars

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.

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Quotes on presidential czars from columnists, economists, and political experts.

Commentary or Blog Post

"When a president wants to signal that an issue really matters, there is nothing like a czar. President-elect Barack Obama is making clear that many issues matter to him.

The idea is to have someone in the White House with the president's ear to coordinate policy and give the topic the weight it deserves. Such a post gives an issue prominence, allows for coordination among agencies and...

James points out that Obama's top bureaucrats--called "czars" by the media--are nothing new, citing the extensive executive branches of FDR, Nixon, and George W. Bush.

Not only has the notion of President Obama's policy "czars" prompted controversy, but several of the czars themselves have been implicated in scandal.

Following the controversial budget deal in early 2011, this piece notes how President Obama failed to keep his end of the bargain.

Albert cautions that empowering the executive branch without the permission of the Senate looks more like the British parliamentary system than the republic the American founders imagined.

Given the many czar positions that have now been created, however, this piece goes on to ponder whether the aforementioned goal is actually being obstructed rather than achieved.

Coffman worries that Obama's policy executives have implemented thousands of pages of regulation, much of which is without the oversight or approval of Congress.

"A liberal senator on Wednesday questioned President Barack Obama's policy 'czars' after the senior advisers have taken heat mostly from Republican lawmakers.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) sent a letter to the president requesting the White House release information regarding the 'roles and responsibilities' of the 'czars.' The Senate Judiciary Committee member also requested that the...

Sarlin outlines the stories and credentials of the Obama Administration's most notable policy "czars", including officials who oversaw the financial bailout and U.S. economic regulatory platforms.

As a part of the continuing resolutions to keep the federal government running, Republicans successfully added an amendment defunding President Obama's senior advisors on top policy issues like heath care and energy.

Rothkopf compares the long secession of Russian Czars from 1613 until 1917 to the Obama Administration's many policy "czars".

The White House's record number of policy chiefs, or "czars", has launched controversy in the media and in Congress.

Unlike his presidential predecessors, Obama's first months in office are reported to focus more on appointing policy "czars" than assembling a cabinet.

Cantor writes that the infiltration of policy "czars" in the Obama Administration has placed far too much emphasis on the executive branch.

Erbe believes this type of executive position epitomizes a lack of respect for budget or accountability.

On paper, they are special advisers, chairmen of White House boards, special envoys and Cabinet agency deputies, asked by the president to guide high-priority initiatives.

"Five constitutional experts testified at a Senate hearing Tuesday that President Obama's extensive use of policy 'czars' is legal -- as long as the officials do not overstep their authority.

In a city where power is carefully hoarded and monitored, Obama has drawn complaints from Congress about his use of the so-called czars, officials he has appointed to coordinate environmental,...

The White House positions aren't subject to congressional oversight, which raises concerns about balance of power.

The political usefulness of a czar is that it allows the President to underscore the importance of an issue/

Government officials engage in a debate over whether or not the White House's policy "czars" truly disrupt the American system of Checks and Balances.

Jonah Goldberg uses this brief blog post to describe the origins and historical connotations of the word "czar."

This post describes how several Republican representatives sought to reign in President Obama's use of the czar position.

Healy fears that the Right's focus on eliminating the White House's "czars" distracts from the larger issue: a corrosive trend of unapproved and largely unaccountable presidential advisors.

Byrd is said to draw from his long career in the Senate as a warning against the dangers of unapproved officials.

"A pattern of governance has emerged in Washington that departs substantially from that envisaged in our Constitution. Under our basic concept of governance: (1) a president and vice president are elected; and (2) the departments of government are staffed by constitutional officers including secretaries, undersecretaries, assistant secretaries and others who are nominated by the president and...

Kevin Sholette seeks to determine whether or not Feinberg's authority is constitutionally sound.

Dunn implied that those who questioned the administration's use of czars were hypocritical, and were only taking an accusatory stance because of the party in the White House.

Du Pont points out that the Obama Administration's prolific number of policy "czars" runs directly counter to Obama's campaign rhetoric

Chart or Graph

Popular political cartoonist Bob Englehart pokes fun at the ever-evolving layers of executive bureaucracy.

This chart lists 28 of President Obama's czars and their official titles. The confirmed salaries of some of the czars - ranging from $98,000 to $172,000 - are especially interesting.

This easy-to-read chart displays the official titles of Obama's "Czars", revealing which have been confirmed by the Senate--and the many which have not.

A list of the few Obama Administration "Czars" that have actually received Senate Confirmation, as of Spring 2010.

Analysis Report White Paper

We discuss what exactly a czar is, why presidents have turned to them with increasing frequency in recent decades, and the relationship between the ascendancy of czars and the constitutional underpinnings of separation of powers and checks and balances.

Americans have always mistrusted executive power, but only recently has 'the unitary executive' emerged as the bogeyman of American politics.

Increased doctrinal room for a president to realize his political program by using the agency form will decrease his incentives to find politically and legally opaque ways to work such influence from the White House.

After examining White House domination of policy making in the Obama presidency, the chapter will analyze the friction with the cabinet and Congress caused by Obama’s appointment of many White House 'czars.'

Recognizing the recent rise of the presidential czar position and the ambiguity surrounding it, Jacqueline Weyand sets out to trace the history and legal precedent for executive czars in America.

This edition of the PRG Report finds presidency scholars exploring the world of unilateral (or nearly unilateral) presidential powers.

"This paper discusses these questions, in an admittedly preliminary way, with reference to historical practice and the first six months of the Obama administration."

Video/Podcast/Media

This news clip expresses Representative Darrell Issa's concern over the fact that many of the President's czars are not accountable to Congress. Issa also raises questions about the lack of transparency concerning the payroll of the President's czars.

Dan Mitchell, a fellow at the Cato Institute, responds to the concern that unapproved administrative appointees are overseeing massive federal tasks and funds.

The numerous unapproved policy bureaucrats in the Obama Administration can be difficult to track. Pajamas Media has put together a helpful video with descriptions of 36 chief government wonks.

Press Secretary Gibbs avoids directly responding to concerns over Senator Feingold's letter to President Obama. Feingold's letter voiced unease at the growing number of "Czars" in the Obama Administration.

In this video segment Spalding details how the rise of Czars in American government--unelected bureaucrats with great regulatory power--pose a grave threat to the liberty of all Americans and fly in the face of the nature of the Constitution.

Primary Document

This cause came on for consideration of appellant's emergency motion for a stay pending appeal and appellees' opposition thereto, and the court heard argument of counsel.

This paper features an extensive list of President Obama's czars. The document creates an individual profile for each czar detailing their job description, past experience, and in some instances, their individual salary.

Although generally regarded as a case concerned with election campaign funds, this case established some important guidelines in regards to the "Appointments Clause" of the Constitution.

In this piece, Senator Hutchinson opines that the increased use of czars in the Obama administration is a dangerous usurpation of "separation of powers."

This case, along with others which dealt with the "Appointments Clause," is helpful in determining the legality and authority of presidential czars.

Speaking to the Senate, Spalding provides a brief modern history of Congress' delegation of power to a group of technical, insulated bureaucrats.

In this document Harry Truman establishes "the Office of Defense Mobilization."

Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt established the "Office of Censorship." This document describes the establishment of the office and also appoints "Byron Price" as the "Director of Censorship," (or Czar) over this agency.

The article gives information on the circumstances surrounding Chester Davis' appointment to the "Food Czar" position and explains what his job would entail.

In response to a request by the Subcommittee on the Constitution, John Harrison provided legal advice on the "employment of so-called 'Czars' within the executive branch."

This letter to President Franklin Roosevelt documents the resignation of Chester Davis, FDR's "Food Czar."

The Counsel of the President responds to Senator Feingold's concerns over Administrative "Czars". Mr. Craig claims that such criticisms of executive positions are misinformed, since all positions are accountable and transparent.

This case revolves around the Constitution's "Appointments Clause" and discusses what constitutes a "'principal' or an 'inferior' officer."

Expressing concern over the many czars appointed during the early months of the Obama administration, Senator Russ Feingold sought to examine their constitutionality.

This link features a hearing on the position of czars in the American presidency.

Following the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, President Bush created the Department of Homeland Security. This document provides his remarks at the swearing-in ceremony of the Department's first czar, Tom Ridge.

Given the rising concern over drug abuse, President Reagan created the "Drug Abuse Policy Office" and appointed Carlton Turner as the first "drug czar."

Senator Byrd writes a cautionary letter to President Obama regarding what Byrd views as the policy "czars" threat to government and American checks and balances.

Senator Susan Collins, Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, questions the number of 'czars' within the Executive Office.

Following an intense budget battle in early 2011, President Obama signed H.R. 1473. This statement was released in conjunction with the signing and declares the President's rejection of the budget cuts which defunded several of his czars (Section 2262).

This document describes the committee's recommendations for the President, including information on the type and number of assistants he should have.

In this testimony, Bradley Patterson, a member of the Brookings Institution, makes six points about the history, legality, and official meaning of the term "czar."

Associate law professor Samahon delivers an address to the Senate Judiciary Committee, with concern to the constitutionality of Obama's czar appointments.

The Constitution of the United States established the federal governmental system currently in place with three branches of government. The premise of executive privilege developed from the separation of powers clause.

This piece from TIME describes the internal bickering and "lack of direction" that FDR's administration encountered because of the czar issue.

This case dealt with whether or not the "Commissioner of Pensions" and his under-officers were officers of the United States.

After the Watergate scandal, the Court held that separation of powers and confidentiality are not sufficient arguments for permitting absolute, unqualified presidential privilege.

This vintage newspaper clipping describes the creation of the "Office of Defense Mobilization" and the appointment of Charles Wilson as its czar.

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