The Truth About "Czars"

Reality CheckLast week, when the President addressed the Joint Session of Congress in a speech on health reform, he referred to some of the untruths – okay, lies – that have been spread about the plan and sent a clear message to those who seek to undermine his agenda and his presidency with these tactics: "We will call you out." So consider this one of those calls.

Over the past several weeks, we've seen with increasing frequency and volume issues raised around the use of "czars" by this Administration. Although some Members have asked serious questions around the makeup of the White House staff, the bulk of the noise you hear began first with partisan commentators, suggesting that this is somehow a new and sinister development that threatens our democracy. This is, of course, ridiculous. Just to be clear, the job title "czar" doesn’t exist in the Obama Administration. Many of the officials cited by conservative commentators have been confirmed by the Senate. Many hold policy jobs that have existed in previous Administrations. And some hold jobs that involved coordinating the work of agencies on President Obama’s key policy priorities: health insurance reform, energy and green jobs, and building a new foundation for long-lasting economic growth

But of course, it’s really the hypocrisy here that is noteworthy. Just earlier today, Darrell Issa, a Republican from California and one of the leaders in calling for an investigation into the Obama Administration’s use of "czars", had to admit to Fox News that he had never raised any objections to the Bush Administration’s use of "czars". Many of these members who now decry the practice have called on Presidents in the past to appoint "czars" to coordinate activities within the government to address immediate challenges. What is clear is that all of this energy going into these attacks could be used to have a constructive conversation about bringing this country together to address our challenges moving forward – and it doesn’t take a "czar" to bring that about! Just some folks willing to act in good faith.

Take a look at the facts below – the truth about "czars":

Rhetoric:  Critics have claimed the Obama Administration is filled with new and unchecked czars.
Glenn Beck Claimed There Were 32 "Czars" In The Obama Administration. "The Brainroom counts 32 czars in the Obama administration, based on media reports from reputable sources that have identified the official in question as a czar." [Glenn Beck Website, 8/21/09]
In Sunday’s Washington Post, Sen. Hutchison Claimed There Were An "Unprecedented 32 Czar Posts." "A few of them have formal titles, but most are simply known as "czars.’ They hold unknown levels of power over broad swaths of policy. Under the Obama administration, we have an unprecedented 32 czar posts (a few of which it has yet to fill), including a ‘car czar,’ a ‘pay czar’ and an ‘information czar.’" [Washington Post, 9/13/09]
Reality: Many of the arbitrarily labeled "czars" on Beck’s list are Senate-confirmed appointees or advisory roles carried over from previous administrations. Others are advisors to the President’s Cabinet Secretaries.  Beck himself says on his own website, "Since czar isn't an official job title, the number is somewhat in the eye of the beholder."
Republicans have supported these positions in the past. When asked on Fox News if he had opposed any of President Bush’s "czars," Rep. Darrell Issa admitted "No we didn’t."  In fact, the Bush administration had many of the same officials and advisors now described as "czars,"  including Afghanistan czar, AIDS czarDrug czarFaith-based czar, Intelligence czar, Mideast Peace Czar, Regulatory Czar, Science Czar, Sudan Czar, TARP/Bailout Czar, Terrorism Czar, and Weapons Czar.
Of the 32 "czars" on Beck’s list, nine were confirmed by the Senate:
Many of the same critics who are decrying these roles have applauded or even pushed for them in the past. Sen. Robert Bennett has criticized czars as "undermining the Constitution,"  but reportedly prodded President Clinton to appoint a Y2K Czar.  In a 1999 CNN appearance, Sen. Bennett said "I think John Koskinen has been superb. I wrote the president six months before John was appointed, recommending that he appoint a Y2K czar." At  a 1999 National Press Club luncheon, Bennett told reporters the Koskinen was "there to help, prod, give information, and make analyses and reports"  and said he spoke with the czar to ensure "we maintain the kind of bipartisan and across-the-government sort of communication that this never becomes a political issue."
Senator Lamar Alexander has also criticized President Obama’s "czars," calling them "an affront to the Constitution."  But during remarks delivered on the Senate floor in 2003, Sen. Alexander said "I would welcome" President Bush’s "manufacturing job czar."  That same day in the Senate, he also expressed support for President Bush’s AIDS czar Randall Tobias. 
When asked on Fox News if he had opposed any of President Bush’s "czars," Rep. Darrell Issa responded "No we didn’t,"  despite previously claiming that czars "undermine" transparency and accountability.
In fact, last year, 176 House Republicans, including Issa, voted for a bill that would create an "Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator" that would advise the President and serve in the White House. By the time the bill passed the Senate, it was co-sponsored by 20 additional senators, including Sen. Alexander.  

Anita Dunn is Director of Communications for the White House

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