Correction to This Article
A graphic with the article listed just one of Aneesh Chopra's two titles. In addition to being the White House chief technology officer, a position that does not require Senate confirmation, Chopra serves as the associate director for technology in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, a post that requires confirmation. Also, a graphic incorrectly classified the federal chief information officer as a position created by President Obama. The position was created by a 2002 statute. Previous officials used the title of administrator for e-government and information technology at the Office of Management and Budget; the current appointee, Vivek Kundra, is the first to use the federal CIO title. The graphic also listed just one of Jeffrey Zients's two titles. In addition to being the chief performance officer, he is the OMB deputy director for management ¿ a post that requires Senate confirmation.

Obama Critics Say Policy 'Czars' Skirt Proper Oversight, Vetting

By Michael A. Fletcher and Brady Dennis
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, September 16, 2009

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. But critics call them "czars" whose powers are not subject to congressional oversight, and their increasing numbers have become a flash point for conservative anger at President Obama.

Lists drawn up by conservative groups detail as many as 40 czars linked to Obama, although some of the positions existed before he took office, and some did win Senate approval. There's "faith-based czar" Joshua DuBois, who heads the White House's Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, a post President George W. Bush created in 2001; "Afghanistan czar" Richard C. Holbrooke, appointed by Obama as special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan; "intelligence czar" Dennis C. Blair, the director of national intelligence, an office created in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks; "Mideast peace czar" George J. Mitchell; and "border czar" Alan Bersin, an assistant secretary of homeland security charged with improving security along the southern border.

Some of the czars are guiding the president on central policy issues. Carol M. Browner serves as Obama's assistant for energy and climate change; Paul A. Volcker chairs the president's Economic Recovery Advisory Board; and Nancy-Ann DeParle heads the White House Office of Health Reform.

Critics of the proliferation of czars say the White House uses the appointments to circumvent the normal vetting process required for Senate confirmation and to avoid congressional oversight. They mobilized recently with the resignation of Van Jones, an adviser to the White House Council on Environmental Quality who was known as the "green jobs czar." Jones had avoided the kind of vetting to which Cabinet officials are subjected; his past affiliations and comments were later unearthed by a conservative commentator.

Earlier controversy centered on "car czar" Steven Rattner, who abruptly resigned in July. After leading the administration's efforts to restructure Chrysler and General Motors, Rattner left amid reports that New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo was investigating the Quadrangle Group, an investment firm he co-founded.

The White House defends the use of special advisers to coordinate responses to problems involving several agencies.

"Lots of these are designed to bring many different efforts together and coordinate them in a way that is more structured and more efficient than the governmental work chart might ordinarily allow," said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs. Asked about accountability, he said that, ultimately, "the president is the person accountable that the policy is right."

Historically, presidents have long used special officials to deal with difficult problems. When the Mississippi River burst its levees in 1927, Calvin Coolidge invested extraordinary power in then-Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover to oversee relief efforts.

Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed a host of special advisers to coordinate policy to combat the Great Depression. Richard M. Nixon named a drug czar and an energy czar, and George W. Bush named czars to coordinate policy efforts on a range of issues. By one count, Bush had 36 czar positions filled by 46 people during his eight years as president.

Fueled by right-wing commentators such as Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, the issue has grown into a staple of anti-Obama activism. On Saturday, at a march in Washington protesting big government, some demonstrators carried signs saying "Czars belong in Russia."

Although the controversy is mostly fanned by Republicans, members of Congress from both parties have questioned czar appointments. After Jones's departure, Rep. Patrick T. McHenry (R-N.C.) called for Obama's czars to testify before Congress about their "authority and responsibilities." Jones's "ability to slip into a position of power without due congressional diligence only further underscores the necessity for a confirmation process," McHenry said.

In a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) called the growing number of special policy advisers "antidemocratic."

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