The push for czar accountability — a major theme of Culture of Corruption — continues.
In the Senate, GOP Sen. Susan Collins yesterday proposed an amendment to the Interior Appropriations bill that would restrict federal funds of at least 18 appointed Obama czars. There are currently four co-sponsors. You can see the amendment text here.
Sunlight is the best disinfectant.
Collins’s statement on the floor yesterday:
Mr. President, I rise to offer an amendment to ensure that the new czars appointed by this Administration can be held accountable to Congress and to the American people.
The effective functioning of our democracy is predicated on open government, on providing a transparent process for the people we serve. It cannot instill trust and confidence in its citizenry unless it fosters accountability.
It is against that backdrop that I raise my strong concerns regarding the Administration’s appointment of at least 18 new “czars” to manage some of the most complex issues facing our country.
As I recently expressed in a letter to the President, I am deeply troubled because these czars fail to provide the accountability, transparency, and oversight necessary for our constitutional democracy.
The creation of “czars” within the Executive Office of the President and elsewhere in the Executive Branch circumvents the constitutionally mandated “advice and consent” role our Founding Fathers assigned to the Senate. It greatly diminishes the ability of Congress to conduct meaningful oversight and to hold officials accountable for their actions. And it creates confusion about which officials are responsible for the government’s policy decisions.
Senators Lamar Alexander, Christopher Bond, Mike Crapo, Pat Roberts, and Robert Bennett joined me in writing to the President about these important issues. We identified at least 18 “czars” whose reported responsibilities may be undermining the constitutional oversight responsibilities of Congress or express statutory assignments of responsibility to other Executive branch officials.
To be clear, I 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 concerns about accountability, transparency, and oversight. Furthermore, we all recognize that Presidents are entitled to rely on experts who serve as senior advisers.
As I noted earlier, however, “czar” positions within the Executive Office of the President are largely insulated from effective Congressional oversight. And many “czars” appointed by this Administration seem either to duplicate or dilute the statutory authority and responsibilities that Congress already has conferred upon Cabinet-level officers and other senior Executive branch officials.
Indeed, many of these new “czars” appear to occupy positions of greater responsibility and authority than officials who already have been confirmed by the Senate.
Whether in the White House or elsewhere, these “czar” appointments are not subject to the Senate’s constitutional “advice and consent” role. Little information is available concerning their responsibilities and authorities. There is no careful Senate examination of their character and qualifications. And we are speaking here of some of the most senior positions within our government.
The appointments of so many czars have muddied the waters, causing confusion and risking miscommunication going forward. We need to know, with clarity: Who is responsible for what? Who is in charge – the czar or the Cabinet official? Who can Congress and the American people hold accountable for government policies that affect daily life?
For those reasons, Mr. President, I offer an amendment that would prevent any more federal funds from being made available for the administrative expenses of any “czars” until two key conditions are met.
First, our amendment would require the President to certify to Congress that every czar will respond to reasonable requests to testify before, or provide information to, any congressional committee with jurisdiction over matters the President has assigned to that individual.
Second, our amendment would require every czar to issue a public, written report twice a year to these same congressional committees. This report would include a description of the activities of the official and the office, any rule, regulation, or policy that the official or the office participated in the development of, or any rule, regulation, or policy that the official or the office directed be developed by the department or agency with statutory responsibility for the matter.
This amendment would represent a significant step toward establishing an oversight regimen for these positions that would provide the transparency and accountability our nation expects from its leaders – transparency promised by this Administration during last year’s campaign.
Beyond the specific requirements of this amendment, I, along with the five other co-signers of my letter, have asked that the President consult carefully with Congress prior to establishing any additional “czar” positions or filling any existing vacancies in these positions.
As our letter states, we stand ready to work with the President to address the challenges facing our nation and to provide our country’s senior leaders with the legitimacy necessary to do their jobs. To ensure that successful outcome, we must eliminate the serious shortcomings associated with “czars.”
We must rebuild and continually fortify the cherished standards of accountability, oversight, and transparency – not erode them further. I urge my colleagues to support this amendment.
Roll Call reiterates a point I made in CoC and repeatedly on this blog: The concerns about czarism transcend partisanship.
Doubts about “czarism” were expressed long before the Jones dust-up by Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd (W.Va.), who wrote to Obama in February that “the rapid and easy accumulation of power by White House staff can threaten the constitutional system of checks and balances.
“At the worst, White House staff have taken direction and control of programmatic areas that are the statutory responsibility of Senate-confirmed officials. … As presidential assistants, they are not accountable to Congress, to Cabinet officials and to virtually anyone but the president.”
Also this month, Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold (Wis.) wrote Obama, asking him to square his naming “czars” with the Appointments Clause of the Constitution, which provides that executive posts should be created by law and subject to Senate confirmation.
Feingold is trying to get the administration to cooperate in hearings before his Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, and Collins and Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) are discussing hearings in the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
We hope the administration will cooperate with both panels and, to the extent that “czars” are making policy and can’t be questioned by Congress, that Members will “call out” the White House.