No executive in the world has more administrative and policy support than the president of the United States. In addition to the President’s Cabinet, Barack Obama has a personal staff of 469 assistants to the president—a record number—almost all of whom are paid more than $100,000 per year. In addition to this figure, factor in the cost of the benefits, staffs, and offices for 469 presidential assistants. With that done, consider that there is an army of junior presidential assistants supporting the presidential assistants and another army of and secretaries supporting the junior assistants. All of these staffers—taken together—support the president. That’s a lot of support. It is also a lot of money to spend during a time of high unemployment, record-breaking budget deficits, and an anemic economy.
With the largest personal staff in the history of the presidency, one would think Barack Obama had all the help he could possibly need, but apparently this is not the case. In addition to the Cabinet and his army of presidential assistants, junior assistants, and secretaries, Barack Obama also has a record number of czars on his staff—43 as of this writing. This number is not a misprint, and you are reading it correctly. The number of czars reporting to Barack Obama is 43, and this number is still increasing. Even Bill Clinton had only eight czars. Why in the world with a fully-staffed cabinet and the largest personal staff in presidential history does Barack Obama need 43 czars? After all, how much help can one president need?
If you are wondering what a czar does, you are not alone. Rather than try to explain the elusive term, I will simply list the czars currently on the White House payroll. In alphabetical order President Obama’s czars as of this writing are: Afghanistan/Pakistan Czar, AIDS Czar, Bailout Czar, Border Czar, Car Czar, Cyber Security Czar, Copyright Czar, Climate Czar, Central Region Czar, Disinformation Czar, Domestic Violence Women Czar, Drug Czar, Education Czar, Economy Czar, Energy and Environmental Czar, Export Czar, Government Performance Czar, Faith-Based Czar, Health Czar, Health Insurance Czar, Homeland Security Czar, Great Lakes Czar, Green Jobs Czar, Guantanamo Closure Czar, Information Czar, Intelligence Czar, Labor Czar, Middle East Peace Czar, Pay Czar, Regulatory Czar, Safe Schools Czar, Science Czar, Stimulus Accountability Czar, Sudan Czar, TARP Czar, Technology Czar, Terrorism Czar, Tobacco Czar, Urban Czar, War Czar, Water Czar, Weapons Czar, and Weapons of Mass Destruction Czar. In addition to these existing positions, several new czars are under consideration including: Zoning Czar, Student Loan Czar, Voter List Czar, Radio-Internet Fairness Czar, Mortgage Czar, Land-Use Czar, and Income Redistribution Czar.
The most commonly heard complaint about czars is that they are hired directly by the president without the advice and consent of Congress. This is a valid criticism. In his book Presidential Perks Gone Royal, Robert Keith Gray writes: “…the czars constitute a shadow government serving at the pleasure of the president, answerable only to him. A government over which the people and their representatives have no control? In our treasured democracy? Sounds dangerously close to the government of the king of an eastern country or Venezuela’s Chavez.” Another valid criticism is the enormous cost of the czars—each paid more than $170,000 per year and each with his or her own costly staff and office operations. Is it any wonder it costs the American taxpayer more than $2 billion per year to support President Obama? Another valid criticism is that the czars duplicate positions that already exist in the Cabinet or in Congressional committees. For example, what does the Homeland Security Czar do that is not already being done by the Secretary for Homeland Security and her Department—a cabinet level department with an annual budget of more than $35 million. Understand that the Homeland Security Czar is NOT part of the Homeland Security Department.
A final valid criticism is that hiring a herd of expensive czars violates one of the promises Barack Obama made while running for president. According to Robert Keith Gray: “On March 31, 2008, then Senator Barack Obama said, ‘The biggest problem that we’re facing right now has to do with George Bush trying to bring more and more power into the executive branch and not go through Congress at all. And that’s what I intend to reverse when I am President of the United States.’” Indeed? Looks like Barack Obama’s czar promise worked out about as well his other promises. Readers know what that means.