Friday, September 18, 2009

Senators express concern with number of 'czars' in Adminstration

In a letter to the President, Senator Susan Collins, Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, questions the number of “czars” within the Executive Office. In the letter, Senator Collins expresses concern that the growing number of czars may be undermining the constitutional oversight responsibilities of Congress. The letter was also signed by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Kit Bond (R-MO), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Bob Bennett (R-UT).

The full text of the letter is as follows:
September 14, 2009

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

We write to express our growing concern with the proliferation of “czars” in your Administration. These positions raise serious issues of accountability, transparency, and oversight. The creation of “czars,” particularly within the Executive Office of the President, circumvents the constitutionally established process of “advise and consent,” greatly diminishes the ability of Congress to conduct oversight and hold officials accountable, and creates confusion about which officials are responsible for policy decisions.

To be clear, we do not consider every position identified in various reports as a “czar” to be problematic. Positions established by law or subject to Senate confirmation, such as the Director of National Intelligence, the Homeland Security Advisor, and the Chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, do not raise the same kinds of concerns as positions that you have established within the Executive Office of the President that are largely insulated from effective Congressional oversight. We also recognize that Presidents are entitled to surround themselves with experts who can serve as senior advisors.

Many “czars” you have appointed, however, either duplicate or dilute the statutory authority and responsibilities that Congress has conferred upon Cabinet-level officers and other senior Executive branch officials. When established within the White House, these “czars” can hinder the ability of Congress to oversee the complex substantive issues that you have unilaterally entrusted to their leadership. Whether in the White House or elsewhere, the authorities of these advisors are essentially undefined. They are not subject to the Senate’s constitutional “advice and consent” role, including the Senate’s careful review of the character and qualifications of the individuals nominated by the President to fill the most senior positions within our government. Indeed, many of these new “czars” appear to occupy positions of greater responsibility and authority than many of the officials who have been confirmed by the Senate to fill positions within your Administration.

With these concerns in mind, we have identified at least 18 “czar” positions created by your Administration whose reported responsibilities may be undermining the constitutional oversight responsibilities of Congress or express statutory assignments of responsibility to other Executive branch officials. With regard to each of these positions, we ask that you explain:

• the specific authorities and responsibilities of the position, including any limitations you have placed on the position to ensure that it does not encroach on the legitimate statutory responsibilities of other Executive branch officials;

• the process by which the Administration examines the character and qualifications of the individuals appointed by the President to fill the position; and,

• whether the individual occupying the position will agree to any reasonable request to appear before, or provide information to, Congress.

We also urge you to refrain from creating similar additional positions or making appointments to any vacant “czar” positions until you have fully consulted with the appropriate Congressional committees.

Finally, we ask that you reconsider your approach of centralizing authority at the White House. Congress has grappled repeatedly with the question of how to organize the federal government. We have worked to improve the Department of Homeland Security and bring together the disparate law enforcement, intelligence, emergency response, and security components that form its core. We established the Director of National Intelligence to coordinate the activities of the 16 elements of the Intelligence Community, breaking down barriers to cooperation that led to intelligence failures before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The bipartisan review by the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee of the failures associated with the response to Hurricane Katrina led to fundamental reforms of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, improving our nation’s preparedness and ability to respond to disasters. In each of these cases, the Congress’s proposed solution did not consolidate power in a single czar locked away in a White House office. Instead, working in a bipartisan fashion, we created a transparent framework of accountable leaders with the authorities necessary to accomplish their vital missions.

If you believe action is needed to address other failures or impediments to successful coordination within the Executive branch, we ask that you consult carefully with Congress prior to establishing any additional “czar” positions or filling any existing vacancies in these positions. We stand ready to work with you to address these challenges and to provide our nation’s most senior leaders with the legitimacy necessary to do their jobs – without furthering the accountability, oversight, vetting, and transparency shortcomings associated with “czars.”


Susan M. Collins
U.S. Senator

Lamar Alexander
U.S. Senator

Christopher S. Bond
U.S. Senator

Mike Crapo
U.S. Senator

Pat Roberts
U.S. Senator

Robert F. Bennett
U.S. Senator

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