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How many czars does it take to run the federal government? More and more, it seems.
In a Twitter message on May 30, 2009, Sen. John McCain took this poke at the Obama administration:
"Obama has more czars than the Romanovs — who ruled Russia for 3 centuries. Romanovs 18, cyberczar makes 20."
First of all, yes, John McCain — the guy criticized during the presidential campaign for being computer illiterate — is tweeting.
But what about the czars? It sure seems like we keep reading about one czar after another being appointed to oversee the auto industry, the Great Lakes, and the closure of Gitmo, and we wondered: Just how many czars does the Obama administration actually have?
First off, the Obama administration doesn't usually call any of these people czars. We only found two instances of President Barack Obama using the term, once in an April 15, 2009, interview with CNN En Espanol when he talked about the role of his "border czar," and once during the campaign when he promised to appoint an "autism czar" to coordinate a nationwide autism effort (he hasn't yet). And in announcing Obama's nomination of Gil Kerlikowske as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Vice President Joe Biden referred to the position as "our nation's drug czar."
We're sure there are more, but the point is that, by and large, you don't often hear the administration talking about its czars.
In fact, the administration has at times gone to some lengths to avoid the moniker, as was the case in this somewhat humorous (in an inside-the-Beltway sorta way) exchange between a reporter and White House spokesman Robert Gibbs on June 10, 2009:
Reporter: On Ken Feinberg, I think that he's maybe the 20th czar-type position you've named.
Gibbs: No, I think the title is "special master."
So who exactly qualifies as a czar? As best we can tell, it's whenever someone in the media says so. You can identify a guy as "Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Co-Chair of the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology," but it's a lot easier on everyone to just say "Science Czar." And "Special Master" sounds like Richie Rich's best friend.
So the title of czar is largely arbitrary media shorthand for "It's this person's job to make sure (blank) goes right." And we think everyone can agree that "Terrorism Czar" sounds way cooler than "Deputy National Security Adviser for Homeland Security."
Below, we have compiled a wildly unscientific list of Obama administration "czars." But we're not the first. Talking Points Memo has a slideshow of Obama's "czars." They count 23 . And ForeignPolicy.com came up with at least 18. We've got 28.
Some of these "czars" are carryover positions from previous administrations. And "czars" go way back in presidential history. Roosevelt had a slew of so-called czars. But to the extent that Obama has created a number of new positions to oversee various issues and to cut through bureaucratic red tape, he seems to have a lot more czars than his predecessors. Or you could argue that the media has just seized on a new buzzword it likes. We're not going to wade into the debate about whether having more czars is a good idea, but Fox ran a story about concerns some lawmakers have with it.
We're just fact-checking McCain's claim that Obama has more czars than the Romanovs. According to the World Book Encyclopedia , there were, as McCain said, 18 Romanov czars, starting with Michael Romanov in 1613 and ending with Nicholas II, who was killed by the Bolsheviks in 1918.
As for Obama's czars, we've got 28 who have been referred to as a czar ... somewhere. Undoubtedly some will take issue with some of the "czars" on our list, but we think McCain is on solid ground. He earns a True.
|Actual (boring) Title
|Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Financial Stability
|Assistant Secretary for International Affairs and Special Representative for Border Affairs
|Director of National Intelligence
|Deputy National Security Adviser for Homeland Security
|Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change
|Adolfo Carrion, Jr
|Urban Affairs Czar
|Director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs
|Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics
|Chief Technology Officer
|Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy
|Great Lakes Czar
|Special advisor to the U.S. EPA overseeing its Great Lakes restoration plan
|Director of the White House Office of Health Reform
|Stimulus Accountability Czar
|Chair of the Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability Board
|Director of the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships
|Special Master on executive pay
|Guantanamo Closure Czar
Special envoy to oversee the closure of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay
|J. Scott Gration
|Special Envoy to Sudan
|Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan
|Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Co-Chair of the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology
|Green Jobs Czar
|Special Adviser for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality
|Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy
|Federal Chief Information Officer
|Mideast Peace Czar
|Special Envoy to the Middle East
|Director of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers
|Mideast Policy Czar
|Special Adviser for the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia
|Coordinator for the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism
|Special Envoy for Climate Change
|Director of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs
|Chairman of the Economic Recovery Advisory Board
Talking Points Memo, "Meet Obama's Czars"
ForeignPolicy.com, "It's official: Obama creates more czars than the Romanovs," by David Rothkopf , April 16, 2009
Twitter.com, From: Sen. John McCain, May 30, 2009
Reuters, "Factbox: Obama to add another czar to government," by Steve Holland, June 10, 2009
Slate, "Czar Wars: How did a term for Russian royalty work its way into American government?" by Ben Zimmer, Dec. 29, 2008
Fox News, "Obama's Czars Spark Concerns Among Some Lawmakers," by Brian Wilson, April 17, 2009
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