Thursday, October 8, 2009

Unwarranted fears over Obama's czars

Russ Feingold is a political hero of mine. I agree with him on 99 percent of all the issues. Occasionally, however, there comes a time when I do disagree with his position once in awhile.

Sen. Feingold recently criticized the power a president has to appoint so-called "czars" who are advisers and members of the presidential administration on special matters (like drugs or education).

"Our ability to conduct meaningful oversight of those who hold the levers of power and to evaluate whether they have the qualifications and character to carry out their duties may be undermined by the centralization of power in the White House," said Feingold.

Feingold's statements are noble in his attempts to have presidents, conservative or liberal alike, be held accountable for whom they appoint. However, it's a concern that he doesn't have to worry about too much, mainly because these czars aren't given much power over that which they supposedly are in charge of.

Surely, even the most liberal of us could see why these czars need oversight, right? They are given governmental powers and duties (and paychecks!) with very little approval from the legislative wing of the American government.

However, a closer inspection of the czars Obama has appointed shows that these are people who already hold jobs within the administration. The title of "czar" is simply that...nothing more. In other words, the work they're doing would be the same whether they're called a czar or not.

There are some czars that are created through legislative mandate; but a czar that is appointed by a president is simply someone who is already working for the administration and receives a fancy new title. It'd be like someone working for the Department of Health and Human Services who is overseeing the H1N1 vaccination distribution. To emphasize to the public that a person is indeed doing this job and making sure it's being done right, Obama could call them the "Vaccine-distribution czar." Their job hasn't changed any, but the public now becomes aware that a person is in charge of distributing vaccines across the country.

Rather than creating a new position within the administration with no oversight or disclosure from the government -- a secretive post, by some conservative accounts -- a czar is exactly the opposite: it's a position within the administration that the president wants to highlight, and does so by creating the title of czar for a person who is already in charge of an important topic.

I have no doubts in my mind that Russ Feingold is only trying to make government more accountable, for this administration and for future ones. But his fears are unwarranted -- Obama's czars have no added power, and are simply czars in name only.

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