Obama’s czars: Bending the Constitution

2012-06-13T00:00:00Z Obama’s czars: Bending the ConstitutionSen. Orrin G. Hatch Daily Herald
June 13, 2012 12:00 am  • 

More than nine decades after czarist rule ended with the deaths of Nicholas II and his family, it is experiencing a rebirth under this president -- in America, not Russia.

Since taking office three years ago, the president has appointed a veritable army of czars -- between 38 and 45. Knowing precisely how many is a problem because such appointees are not being held accountable or made available to Congress despite leading major policy initiatives for the Administration.

Even if the lowest figure is used, that means this Administration has more czars than Imperial Russia had in its entire history. In other words, Abraham Lincoln's "government of the people, by the people, for the people" has given way to government by unelected bureaucrats who are often unaccountable to no one except the president.

Ironically, this is precisely what the president vowed he would put a stop to during his campaign.

"The biggest problems that we're facing right now have to do with George Bush trying to bring more and more power into the executive branch and not through Congress at all. And that's what I intend to reverse when I'm president of the United States," then-Sen. Barack Obama said in March 2008.

But in 2012, under this Administration, czars are proliferating like weeds. For example, we now have a Mideast policy czar, a Mideast peace czar, as well as Sudan, Afghanistan and Pakistan czars. There's also the terrorism czar and a WMD czar. On matters domestic, we have the Great Lakes czar, Asian carp czar and stimulus accountability czar. And we must not forget the diversity czar, energy czar, technology czar and urban affairs czar -- all of whom have crossed paths as well as swords on occasion -- just to name a few.

As duplicative, contentious and convoluted as that is, it is could get even worse. The reason is because there are even more czars in the planning stages: income redistribution czar, Internet czar, voter list czar, disinformation czar, behavioral czar, zoning czar and on and on, ad nauseam.

Where does it all end?

Months ago, if many in Congress had their way. In 2011, House Republicans and 13 Democrats passed a bill aimed at eliminating funds for czars. Unfortunately, the legislation has no chance of passing the Democratic-controlled Senate. Even if it did, it would not survive this president's veto.

Granted, some say, the term "czar" can carry with it pejorative connotations in the mind of some Americans. But the federal government is so big and convoluted, they argue, what's the harm in the President creating czar-like positions to coordinate between agencies and work outside jurisdictional lines to get things done?

Plenty, as it turns out.

For one thing, the Constitution requires the Senate to confirm all presidential nominees for officer positions. Appointing czars who have not been vetted or confirmed by the Senate effectively usurps the rightful authority of cabinet officers who have gone through that constitutional process. Moreover, these czars' duties also often overlap or replace those who have undergone Senate confirmation.

Another problem is the lack of transparency and accountability. Many of the president's czars are labeled as policy advisers and thus don't readily fall under the Freedom of Information Act. Furthermore, they are often instructed by White House not to testify before Congress. As a result, their actions are shrouded in secrecy; no one outside the Administration knows what they are doing.

By failing to bring transparency to the White House, this president has broken faith with the American people. He also is subverting the authority of Congress to act as a constitutional check to the executive branch. That is unacceptable.

This White House needs to shed some light on its method of governance. The Dark Ages ended with the Renaissance and czarist rule with the Romanovs. It is past time for both to end in the Obama administration as well.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch is a Republican who represents Utah in the United States Senate. He is facing challenger Dan Liljenquist in Utah's GOP primary election on June 26.

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