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Robert Farley
By Robert Farley June 12, 2009

McCain says Obama has more czars than the Romanovs

How many czars does it take to run the federal government? More and more, it seems.

In a Twitter message on May 30, 2009, Sen. John McCain took this poke at the Obama administration:

"Obama has more czars than the Romanovs — who ruled Russia for 3 centuries. Romanovs 18, cyberczar makes 20."

First of all, yes, John McCain — the guy criticized during the presidential campaign for being computer illiterate — is tweeting.

But what about the czars? It sure seems like we keep reading about one czar after another being appointed to oversee the auto industry, the Great Lakes, and the closure of Gitmo, and we wondered: Just how many czars does the Obama administration actually have?

First off, the Obama administration doesn't usually call any of these people czars. We only found two instances of President Barack Obama using the term, once in an April 15, 2009, interview with CNN En Espanol when he talked about the role of his "border czar," and once during the campaign when he promised to appoint an "autism czar" to coordinate a nationwide autism effort (he hasn't yet). And in announcing Obama's nomination of Gil Kerlikowske as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Vice President Joe Biden referred to the position as "our nation's drug czar."

We're sure there are more, but the point is that, by and large, you don't often hear the administration talking about its czars.

In fact, the administration has at times gone to some lengths to avoid the moniker, as was the case in this somewhat humorous (in an inside-the-Beltway sorta way) exchange between a reporter and White House spokesman Robert Gibbs on June 10, 2009:

Reporter: On Ken Feinberg, I think that he's maybe the 20th czar-type position you've named.
Gibbs:  No, I think the title is "special master."
So who exactly qualifies as a czar? As best we can tell, it's whenever someone in the media says so. You can identify a guy as "Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Co-Chair of the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology," but it's a lot easier on everyone to just say "Science Czar." And "Special Master" sounds like Richie Rich's best friend.

So the title of czar is largely arbitrary media shorthand for "It's this person's job to make sure (blank) goes right." And we think everyone can agree that "Terrorism Czar" sounds way cooler than "Deputy National Security Adviser for Homeland Security."

Below, we have compiled a wildly unscientific list of Obama administration "czars." But we're not the first. Talking Points Memo has a slideshow of Obama's "czars." They count 23 . And came up with at least 18. We've got 28.

Some of these "czars" are carryover positions from previous administrations. And "czars" go way back in presidential history. Roosevelt had a slew of so-called czars. But to the extent that Obama has created a number of new positions to oversee various issues and to cut through bureaucratic red tape, he seems to have a lot more czars than his predecessors. Or you could argue that the media has just seized on a new buzzword it likes. We're not going to wade into the debate about whether having more czars is a good idea, but Fox ran a story about concerns some lawmakers have with it.

We're just fact-checking McCain's claim that Obama has more czars than the Romanovs. According to the World Book Encyclopedia , there were, as McCain said, 18 Romanov czars, starting with Michael Romanov in 1613 and ending with Nicholas II, who was killed by the Bolsheviks in 1918.

As for Obama's czars, we've got 28 who have been referred to as a czar ... somewhere. Undoubtedly some will take issue with some of the "czars" on our list, but we think McCain is on solid ground. He earns a True.


Name Czar Title Actual (boring) Title Herb Allison TARP Czar Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Financial Stability Alan Bersin Border Czar Assistant Secretary for International Affairs and Special Representative for Border Affairs Dennis Blair Intelligence Czar Director of National Intelligence John Brennan Terrorism Czar Deputy National Security Adviser for Homeland Security Carol Browner Energy Czar Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change Adolfo Carrion, Jr Urban Affairs Czar Director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs Ashton Carter Weapons Czar Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Aneesh Chopra Technology Czar Chief Technology Officer Jeffrey Crowley AIDS Czar Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy Cameron Davis Great Lakes Czar Special advisor to the U.S. EPA overseeing its Great Lakes restoration plan Nancy-Ann DeParle Health Czar Director of the White House Office of Health Reform Earl Devaney Stimulus Accountability Czar Chair of the Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability Board Joshua DuBois Faith-based Czar Director of the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Kenneth Feinberg Pay Czar Special Master on executive pay Danny Fried Guantanamo Closure Czar Special envoy to oversee the closure of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay
J. Scott Gration Sudan Czar Special Envoy to Sudan Richard Holbrooke Afghanistan Czar Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan John Holdren Science Czar Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Co-Chair of the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology Van Jones Green Jobs Czar Special Adviser for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality Gil Kerlikowske Drug Czar Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy Vivek Kundra Information Czar Federal Chief Information Officer George Mitchell Mideast Peace Czar Special Envoy to the Middle East Ed Montgomery Car Czar Director of Recovery for Auto Communities and Workers Dennis Ross Mideast Policy Czar Special Adviser for the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia Gary Samore WMD Czar Coordinator for the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism Todd Stern Climate Czar Special Envoy for Climate Change Cass Sunstein Regulatory Czar Director of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs Paul Volcker Economic Czar Chairman of the Economic Recovery Advisory Board

Our Sources

Talking Points Memo, "Meet Obama's Czars", "It's official: Obama creates more czars than the Romanovs," by David Rothkopf , April 16, 2009, From: Sen. John McCain, May 30, 2009

Reuters, "Factbox: Obama to add another czar to government," by Steve Holland, June 10, 2009

Slate, "Czar Wars: How did a term for Russian royalty work its way into American government?" by Ben Zimmer, Dec. 29, 2008

Fox News, "Obama's Czars Spark Concerns Among Some Lawmakers," by Brian Wilson, April 17, 2009

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McCain says Obama has more czars than the Romanovs

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