Federal Government

The use of various “czars” on the part of the Obama administration is intended to aid the administration in executing policy initiatives in an efficient and robust manner. There are, however, some legitimate concerns among lawmakers that the extensive use of such positions can compromise checks and balances, and shield policy makers from the scrutiny of Congress. While these concerns have some ideological support in the historical documents discussed in class, the use of the “Czars” system does not reflect a true departure from the principles addressed therein.

The Constitution of the United States carefully outlines the expressed powers of Congress in Article One, section eight. Among the enumerated powers of congress is the authority to pass appropriation bills, and in the reverse, withhold funding from those endeavors that Congress does not approve of. Thus, the salary and budget for these various “Czars” is subject to congressional oversight, even if the individuals in question are not subject to Senate approval.

Far from being a threat to checks and balances, the ability of the president to appoint individuals to these roles that suit his policy purposes, rather than pandering to party considerations properly restores a key element of executive power to its proper realm. The constitution, in outlining the powers of the executive in Article two, gives the senate the authority to advise and consent on judicial appointments. It mentions nothing of the later-usurped advise and consent authority for cabinet positions, or any other elements of the executive offices.

The proper recourse for congress if these officials prove unsatisfactory is impeachment after the fact, not politically oriented screening before the fact. Yet another point of constitutional concern is the tenth Amendment. This provision reserves all powers not enumerated to the Federal Government, or reserved to the people, to the various states. As congress is granted the ability to regulate interstate commerce, and the executive can enforce that which congress codifies, there does not appear to be any Tenth amendment issue in the use of “czars” by the executive branch.

James Madison, in Federalists #10, articulated an argument in favor of the ratification of the constitution. He focused on the dangers of factionalism, as displayed in pure democracy. This can be related to the executive implementation of the “czar” system in a rather oblique manner. As Madison criticizes pure democracy, he necessarily cast doubts as to the competence of congress to act for the greater good in the face of factionalism.

The congress is now entirely elected by the people, a fact that was not true at the time of Madison’s writing. This being the case, Madison was relying on the wisdom of representatives and the executive to avoid the foibles associated with democratically-derived factionalism. Thus, it can be concluded that in the absence of evidence that the balance of powers of the government are not upset by the practice, it would seem as though Madison would have little problem with the “czar” system.

Chapters twelve and thirteen of Locke’s Second treatise on Government discuss the relationship between the branches of government. He too emphasizes the relative importance of the executive and its ability to administer and enforce the laws of the legislative branch. He goes as far as to suggest that while the meeting of the legislative branch need not be constant, it important that the executive act all the time to further the enforcement of the laws of the executive.

All of the authors are in agreement that the “czar” system does not represent a usurpation of power by the executive. The legislative branch retains its ability to pass laws that are to be enforced by these individuals, and their advise and consent for their appointment is unnecessary and counter-productive. Should any of these “czars” prove to be corrupt, criminal or incompetent, the legislative branch has recourse through impeachment, as well as control of thee budget of these individuals’ jurisdictions.