WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., Thursday presided over a debate about the competing interests between the President’s constitutional right to appoint his own policy advisors and Congress’ responsibility to oversee Executive Branch activities.
At a hearing titled “Presidential Advice and Senate Consent: The Past, Present and Future of Policy Czars,” witnesses and committee members also looked at the policy and management implications of White House czars.
“The real issue today was not the number of White House policy advisors appointed by President Obama versus his predecessors,” Lieberman said. “The real issue is accountability and whether the use of presidentially-appointed policy czars, regardless of which president appointed them, adversely affects Congressional oversight, and government accountability and transparency. Balancing the inherent tensions that exist between the Legislative and Executive branches is a work in progress, but I would like to determine if we can achieve a balance that satisfies the legitimate demands of both branches.”
Although the estimates of current Executive Branch czars varies, depending on the definition of the term “czar,” the Committee limited its discussion to non-statutory, unconfirmed advisors working at the White House who have made it clear they would not testify before Congress. That limits the number to between four and eight advisors.
Witnesses testified that the President has an unequivocal Constitutional right to name the advisors of his choice. But several Senators stressed the need for public accountability, rather than private consultation, which is how White House advisors typically engage members of Congress.
Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, who had previously served as a special homeland security advisor to President Bush, testified about the conflicts that arise between a policy czar and a Senate-confirmed Secretary responsible for the same policy.
In addition to Ridge, the witnesses were Dr. James Pfiffner, a professor at the George Mason School of Public Policy who specializes in the presidency, American National Government and public management; Lee Casy, former Attorney-Advisor in the Office of Legal Counsel at the U.S. Justice Department; and Dr. Harold Relyea, a former Specialist in American National Government at the Congressional Research Service.