Republicans seek czar accountability

With White House “czars” under scrutiny, two senior House Republicans are demanding that the White House account for the dozens of advisers whom the press has designated as czars and either make them available to testify to Congress or explain why they should be exempt.

Reps. Darrell Issa of California and Lamar Smith of Texas, the top Republicans on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee and Judiciary Committee, respectively, sent a letter to the White House lawyer critical of the arrangement that allows some senior White House officials to coordinate policy even though they are not subject to Senate hearings or confirmation.

Among the Republicans’ demands is a full accounting of the number of czars, what they are paid and how they have been chosen. But the two lawmakers also want to know whether the Obama administration will make czars available to testify to Congress - something that has traditionally not been the case.

“Indicate whether, in keeping with promises of transparency and accountability, this administration will, without subpoena, agree to make these individuals, both confirmed and unconfirmed, available to testify before relevant House and Senate committees of jurisdiction regarding their duties and policymaking decisions,” the men demanded of White House Counsel Greg Craig.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, the top Republican on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, sent a letter asking similar questions.

Mrs. Collins, joined in her letter by five other Republicans, questioned “at least 18” of the czar positions she said the Obama administration has created.

But the White House says critics misunderstand the roles of many of the people who have been dubbed “czars.” The term generally is an informal designation given to someone who coordinates a part of administration policy - and is often assigned by the press, not the administration.

“The term ‘czar’ is largely a media creation to make jobs that have existed under multiple administrations sound more exciting. Every president since [Richard] Nixon has hired smart and qualified people to coordinate between agencies and the White House,” spokesman Tommy Vietor said.

Those dubbed czars in the press range from the director of national intelligence, which is a Senate-confirmed position, to climate czar Carol Browner, to the recently resigned “green jobs” czar Van Jones.

The Republican congressmen said they have identified 53 czar positions, with 45 of them filled.

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