The real power in the Obama administration is unconfirmed and unaccountable.
If you can't beat 'em, czar 'em. This is the standard operating procedure in Obama World. The time-honored Senate confirmation process proved to be a dangerous landmine for one too many of the president's picks. But the White House found the perfect cure for Obama Nominee Withdrawal Syndrome: Avoid future debacles by circumventing the nomination process altogether.
So far, czars have been installed in at least 35 posts through presidential executive orders that require no Senate approval. No Senate review, no questions. No questions, no problems.
The Obama administration has created a two-tiered government -- fronted by Cabinet secretaries able to withstand public scrutiny (some of them, just barely) and then managed behind the scenes by shadow secretaries with broad powers beyond congressional reach. Bureaucratic chaos serves as a useful smokescreen to obscure the true source of policy decision-making. Energy czar Carol Browner epitomized the secretive dealings of these offices when she advised auto industry executives this month to "to put nothing in writing, ever" about their meetings with her.
While past administrations dating back to the Nixon era have designated such "super aides," none has extended the concept as widely as Obama has. Currently, 35 out of 44 current "czar" slots are presidential appointments. They are among the highest-paid staffers at the White House. Most of Obama's key czars have Cabinet counterparts already in place.
It's not just the unprecedented quantity of White House-appointed bureaucratic commissars that galls. It's their shockingly compromised ethics and integrity. Here are three of Obama's most interest-conflicted, superfluous, and criminal czars and czarinas:
Nancy DeParle, Health Czar
Former Kansas Democrat Governor Kathleen Sebelius won Senate confirmation as Health and Human Services Secretary. But the real power lies with with newly-created health czar Nancy-Ann Min DeParle. Her official title: Director of the White House Office for Health Reform.
DeParle ran the behemoth Medicare and Medicaid programs under Bill Clinton. She parlayed her government experience into a lucrative private-sector stint. Over the past three years, she made nearly $6 million from her work in the health care industry. Despite President Obama's loud denunciations of the revolving-door lobbyist culture in Washington, DeParle's industry ties didn't bother the White House.
She served as an investment advisor at JP Morgan Partners, LLC; sat on the board of directors at Boston Scientific Corporation; and held directorships at Accredo Health Group Inc., Triad Hospitals (now part of Community Health Systems), and DaVita Corporation. In all, she sat on at least 10 boards while advising JP Morgan and working as managing director at a private equity firm, CCMP Capital.
From 2002 to 2008, while holding all those titles, DeParle also served as a member of the government-chartered Medicare Payment Advisory Committee (MedPAC), an influential panel that advises Congress on what Medicare should cover and at what price. Last month, former MedPAC member DeParle cozily announced that Obama was "open to making recommendations of [MedPAC] mandatory unless opposed by a joint resolution of Congress."
Obama famously signed an early executive order requiring appointees to pledge not to participate "in any particular matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to any former employer or former clients" for a period of two years from the date of his or her appointment. But it's hard to imagine any health care reform-related issue that won't involve one of DeParle's former employers, clients, and corporate boards in the health care industry. She earned at least $376,000 from Cerner Corporation, for example, which specializes in health information technology. As health czar, DeParle has unmeasured clout in directing $19 billion of federal stimulus money earmarked for, yes, health information technology.
Last week, a Washington, D.C. citizen watchdog filed suit to force the White House to disclose which health care lobbyists and executives it had met with this year to discuss insurance takeover legislation. White House counsel Greg Craig refused to disclose which administration officials attended the meetings. But at least two of the industry visitors have ties to DeParle. William C. Weldon is chairman of Johnson & Johnson, which paid DeParle $7,500 for a recent speech. Wayne Smith is chief executive of Community Health Systems, which merged with Triad Hospitals - where DeParle served on the board of directors. DeParle's options were converted to cash payments worth $1.05 million.
Despite Obama's lip service to transparency, the public is in the dark about which assets DeParle has divested and how many times, if any, DeParle has recused herself from policy matters and meetings. Czardom has its privileges.
Adolfo Carrion, Urban Czar
Former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión Jr., the nation's "urban czar" is a man in Obama's own image: Son of immigrants. Charismatic. Ambitious. And embroiled in pay-for-play scandals that would make the Chicago political machine proud.
Carrion's official title: Head of the White House Office of Urban Affairs. But doesn't the president already have a Secretary of Housing and Urban Development? Yes. That spot went to Harvard grad and former Clinton HUD official Shaun Donovan, who moved up from his role as New York City commissioner of housing and development. Grievance groups, however, were miffed that the HUD job didn't go to a racial or ethnic minority. (Donovan is white; HUD is a notorious bastion of cronyism of color.) Enter Carrión.
As a reward for turning out the Latino vote, Obama gave Carrion the unprecedented power to shower federal dollars on urban areas and coordinate urban policy across several bureaucracies. In practice, the job empowers Carrión to carry out the kind of pay-to-play schemes that sullied his tenure in the Bronx on a nationwide scale. It's Obama-approved old school patronage dressed up as the new urban renewal.
As Bronx Borough president, Carrion took tens of thousands of dollars in donations from real estate firms just before and after the developers snagged lucrative deals or crucial zoning changes for their projects. In turn, he made millions in public tax dollars available to his cronies. And Carrion rubber-stamped three housing projects for an architect whom he hired to renovate his City Island Victorian home. It is illegal for an elected official to accept such a gift, but Carrión failed to pay the architect until after he was tapped for his urban czar post. The White House shrugged.
Similar arrangements involving home renovation freebies from corporate suitors resulted in multiple criminal convictions for entrenched Alaska GOP Senator Ted Stevens and forced the resignation of Republican former Connecticut Governor John Rowland. But there was barely a peep from the Beltway's clean government types about Carrión's smelly deals. He is also a lavish spender - squandering nearly $20,000 on a teleprompter, junkets to San Juan, and $50,000 on a going away party for himself. Viva la Hope and Change.
Vivek Kundra, Technology Czar
Who thinks putting a shoplifter in charge of the entire federal government's information security infrastructure is a good idea? The Obama White House has complete confidence in Vivek Kundra, the 34-year-old "whiz kid" named Federal Chief Information Officer in March 2009 despite his criminal history. As first reported by Ed Morrissey at HotAir.com, Kundra was convicted of misdemeanor theft. He stole a handful of men's shirts from a J.C. Penney's department store and ran from police in a failed attempt to evade arrest. Kundra was a 21-year-old adult at the time of his attempted thievery and attempted escape from the police. From the White House's pooh-poohing of the incident as a "youthful indiscretion," you might have thought the digits in his age were reversed.
Whitewashing the petty thief's crimes, Obama instead effused about his technology czar's "depth of experience in the technology arena." As the nation's CIO, Kundra "will play a key role in making sure our government is running in the most secure, open, and efficient way possible." But the aura of security and openness was further thrown into doubt in March when an FBI search warrant was issued at Kundra's office. He was serving as the Chief Technology Officer of the District of Columbia before moving over to the White House.
During the transition, two of Kundra's underlings, Yusuf Acar and Sushil Bansal, were charged in an alleged scheme of bribery, kickbacks, ghost employees, and forged timesheets. Kundra was put on leave for five days and then reinstated after the feds informed him that he was neither a subject nor a target of the investigation. Team Obama emphasized that Kundra had no idea what was going on in his workplace, which employed about 300 workers.
But if his claimed ignorance is supposed to exonerate Kundra, what does it suggest about his ability to police government technology operations across the entire federal government? And what responsibility and oversight exactly did Kundra have over the indicted employees in his office?
Veteran D.C. newspaper columnist Jonetta Rose Barras reported that Acar "was consistently promoted by his boss, Vivek Kundra, receiving with each move increasing authority over sensitive information and operating with little supervision." The raid was no surprise to city and federal watchdogs, who had identified a systemic lack of controls in the office. Now, Kundra promises to create "a culture of accountability and innovation" in order to prevent "theft and fraud." The anti-crime prevention strategy of Obama's technology security chief: Takes one to know one.
The czar explosion illustrates the first law of political physics: As government grows, corruption flows. Unchecked, these super-bureaucrats have the power to wreak major havoc on the economy and our lives. Who will stop them?
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Tags: Obama, Czar, Czars, Corruption, Fraud, Scam, White House, Government, Congress, Senate, Cabinet, Commissars, Politburo, Carol Browner, Nancy DeParle, Kathleen Sebelius, Nancy-Ann Min DeParle, Greg Craig, William C. Weldon, Adolfo Carrion, Shaun Donovan, E
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