(Reuters) - President Barack Obama assigned another “czar” on Wednesday to his portfolio of top officials who have broad authority, a practice that some in the U.S. Congress have frowned upon.
Washington lawyer Kenneth Feinberg will be given the role of compensation czar to help set the pay of the top 100 executives at companies that received large federal bailout funds.
Here are some details and background about the czars.
Feinberg’s appointment adds to a long list of so-called czars -- as many as 21 -- who play powerful roles in Obama’s government.
There is a drug czar responsible for trying to control the flood of illegal drugs into the United States. A U.S. border czar works on issues along the turbulent U.S.-Mexican border.
The urban czar works on city issues, while the stimulus accountability czar tries to ensure the $787 billion in economic stimulus funds is spent properly.
An Iran czar is seeking to improve U.S. relations with Iran and head off its nuclear ambitions. An energy czar has the global-warming portfolio.
The idea is to have one person ultimately responsible for an issue and avoid problems of overlapping bureaucracies that previous administrations have experienced. But the system has its critics.
Republican Senator John McCain has complained that Obama has “more czars than the Romanovs,” who ruled Russia for three centuries.
Some members of Congress complain about czars, because they did not go through the usual Senate confirmation process like other top officials but have a big hand in government actions involving many billions of dollars.
The car czar, for example, oversees auto company bailouts of around $50 billion, while the bank bailout czar has $700 billion in bailouts to look after.
“You can imagine from the perspective of the Senate that you’re dealing with people who do not have confirmation to go through and so are not accountable in the same way. I think that’s what rankles some people in the Senate,” said Norman Ornstein, a political expert at the American Enterprise Institute.
He also said having czars has the potential of confusing lines of authority that can “create tensions, messiness in government.”
But Ornstein said he liked the quality of the people being appointed and that “empire-building and bureaucratic infighting” have been largely absent so far.
Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Eric Beech
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