Obama Assembles Powerful West Wing
Influential Advisers May Compete With Cabinet
Thursday, January 8, 2009; Page A01
President-elect Barack Obama is assembling a new and influential cadre of counselors just steps from the Oval Office whose power to direct domestic policy will rival, if not exceed, the authority of his Cabinet.
Presidents have long strived to centralize influence in the White House, often to the frustration of their Cabinet secretaries. But not since Richard M. Nixon tried to abolish the majority of his Cabinet has a president gone so far in attempting to build a West Wing-based clutch of advisers with a mandate to cut through -- or leapfrog -- the traditional bureaucracy.
Obama's emerging "super-Cabinet" is intended to ensure that his domestic priorities -- health reform, the environment and urban affairs -- don't get mired in agency red tape or brushed aside by the ongoing economic meltdown and international crises. Half a dozen new White House positions have been filled by well-known leaders with experience navigating Washington turf wars.
But some see the potential for chaos within the administration.
"We're going to have so many czars," said Thomas J. Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "It's going to be a lot of fun, seeing the czars and the regulators and the czars and the Cabinet secretaries debate."
Carol M. Browner, who ran the Environmental Protection Agency in the Clinton administration, is taking on a broad new portfolio with responsibility for Obama's ambitious agenda on the environment, energy and climate change.
Bronx politician Adolfo Carrion Jr. is expected to serve in another new White House post, implementing Obama's education and housing agenda for cities.
Former senator Thomas A. Daschle will become the first Cabinet secretary in decades to have an office in the West Wing and a separate, newly created White House title: director of the Office of Health Reform.
Daschle's confirmation hearing to become secretary of health and human services begins today.
In interviews, several top Obama advisers said they are extending to domestic affairs a model of governance that has long been used in foreign policy, in which the national security adviser manages diplomatic and military matters from a perch in the White House that offers him or her ready access to the president.
"Given the enormity of the challenges we face, it is critical to have someone in the White House every day, reporting to the president, coordinating policy and giving these issues the important focus they deserve," said Obama spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter. "It allows for efficient, streamlined decision-making."
But Bruce Herschensohn, a professor of foreign policy at Pepperdine University who was deputy special assistant to Nixon, said Obama's plans for the White House could do the opposite.