Thursday, January 8, 2009


Although it is rarely mentioned in the media, the growing number of top level White House positions - including ones that effectively outrank similar cabinet posts - has had the effect of not only reducing the role of cabinet positions but of the power of the Senate to affect them by the confirmation process. This is one of the many ways the Constitution has been covertly rewritten and so quietly that hardly anyone notices. This story describes Obama's contribution to the neutering of cabinet posts.

Michael D. Shear and Ceci Connolly, Washington Post - President-elect Barack Obama is assembling a new and influential cadre of counselors just steps from the Oval Office whose power to direct domestic policy will rival, if not exceed, the authority of his Cabinet.

Presidents have long strived to centralize influence in the White House, often to the frustration of their Cabinet secretaries. But not since Richard M. Nixon tried to abolish the majority of his Cabinet has a president gone so far in attempting to build a West Wing-based clutch of advisers with a mandate to cut through -- or leapfrog -- the traditional bureaucracy.

Obama's emerging "super-Cabinet" is intended to ensure that his domestic priorities -- health reform, the environment and urban affairs -- don't get mired in agency red tape or brushed aside by the ongoing economic meltdown and international crises. Half a dozen new White House positions have been filled by well-known leaders with experience navigating Washington turf wars.

But some see the potential for chaos within the administration.

"We're going to have so many czars," said Thomas J. Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "It's going to be a lot of fun, seeing the czars and the regulators and the czars and the Cabinet secretaries debate.". . .

In interviews, several top Obama advisers said they are extending to domestic affairs a model of governance that has long been used in foreign policy, in which the national security adviser manages diplomatic and military matters from a perch in the White House that offers him or her ready access to the president.

"Given the enormity of the challenges we face, it is critical to have someone in the White House every day, reporting to the president, coordinating policy and giving these issues the important focus they deserve," said Obama spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter. "It allows for efficient, streamlined decision-making."

But Bruce Herschensohn, a professor of foreign policy at Pepperdine University who was deputy special assistant to Nixon, said Obama's plans for the White House could do the opposite.

"It's adding a layer of bureaucracy rather than really eliminating one," said Herschensohn, recalling Nixon's failed attempt to eliminate all but four Cabinet agencies. "Everyone will be fighting with everybody. You'll have conflict with every Cabinet officer who will now have a superior in the West Wing or" the adjacent Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

If executed poorly, empowering a small team inside the White House can lead to insular decision making and the alienation of those Cabinet secretaries outside the loop, said historian I.M. Destler, a professor at the University of Maryland's public policy school.

"It tends to lead to disruption, and sometimes chaos, in terms of how the larger government works," Destler said. "It cuts out other people. They think the worst about what's going on in the White House. Loyalty to the president is diminished."


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