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Despite the newness of his role as director of the Office of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge has responsibilities akin to those of many predecessors. In the day-to-day process of governing, presidents periodically are shaken up by a very special category of problems that surge into the White House policy machinery. These will involve issues of bewildering complexity, cutting across many boundary lines of departmental jurisdiction. They will be urgent, requiring responses so immediate that any delay opens the president to the charge of falling down on the job. And they will be seen as incapable of being managed by existing institutional arrangements. The president’s response will be to augment quickly his White House or Executive Office resources and call in a special person with expertise and stature — a White House “czar.” PRESIDENTS AND CZARS Dwight Eisenhower used this technique 10 times. John Kennedy had six such special assistants, and Lyndon Johnson had four. Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan all acted similarly. A drug czar was put into law effective the day of the inauguration of George H.W. Bush. Bill Clinton made the creation of an AIDS czar a campaign promise, which he fulfilled in June 1993. Now, in this fall of 2001, shaken by the crisis of terrorism directly affecting America itself, George W. Bush has created the Office of Homeland Security and appointed Ridge to head it, as assistant to the president — the highest White House ranking. Ridge has an enormous task. In 16 departments and agencies there are at least 124 federal bureaus with operations affecting homeland security. So how much power does a White House czar have? And how is the czar’s office organized to exercise that power? There are four options. First, a White House special coordinator can be set up in business with only a presidential statement as mission and charter. In a June 1993 announcement, President Clinton said, “By now appointing an AIDS policy coordinator, we will ensure that one person in the White House oversees and unifies government-wide AIDS efforts.” When AIDS czar Kristine Gebbie resigned 13 months later “by mutual agreement,” her parting shot of advice for her successor was, “Get more clarity, right from the beginning.” Three more coordinators followed her. The second option is to issue a presidential executive order establishing the czar’s position and stating the mission and functions. Such an executive order is likely to be more specific than a mere presidential statement. It has staying power because it can be revoked or amended only by another presidential executive order. However, unless it is issued to carry out a specific provision of a statute, even a presidential executive order is only a general admonition, applying only to the officers within a president’s own administration. Every such general executive order contains a caveat such as, “This order does not create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or equity by a party against the United States, its departments, agencies or instrumentalities, its officers or employees, or any other person.” Which is to say, there are no legal commitments for any new programs or any new money. President Bush chose this second option when he issued Executive Order 13,228 on Oct. 8, 2001, setting up the Office of Homeland Security. It contains the above-quoted caveat. It also contains the office’s mission description — in wide-ranging language that conveys much influence but little power. The verbs used are significant. Ridge is to “develop and coordinate the implementation of a comprehensive national strategy,” “coordinate the executive branch’s efforts,” “work with the executive departments and agencies,” “identify priorities,” “work with Federal, State and local agencies,” “facilitate,” “coordinate and prioritize,” “ensure that, to the extent permitted by law,” “review and assess the adequacy of,” “strengthen measures,” “develop criteria,” “review plans,” “encourage and invite the participation of,” and “develop … proposals for presidential action … for submission to the Office of Management and Budget.” As for budget authority, now-Assistant to the President Ridge is to scrutinize the “level and use of funding in departments and agencies for homeland security-related activities and, prior to the [OMB] Director’s forwarding of the proposed annual budget submission to the President for transmittal to the Congress, shall certify to the [OMB] Director the funding levels that the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security believes are necessary and appropriate.” This language gives Ridge an exceptional measure of influence — but, still, only the president has the power of decision and action. STATUTORY RULE? The third option for establishing a central coordinator is to have the coordinator’s mission and functions enacted into a statute. A law has even longer staying power than an executive order — it remains in effect until changed by Congress and the president. This is the form used for the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The substance of that 1988 statute is quite similar to the homeland security executive order. Did the fact that these authorities were statutory endow the drug czar with extra clout? The drug czar of the Clinton period recently reflected on what happened when he began to make recommendations about the drug budget of the Department of Defense. The Pentagon’s protests were so furious, he recalled, that “it was like setting fire to a cathedral on Easter Sunday.” Nonetheless, to implement option three, a bill (S. 1449) creating a statutory basis for a National Office for Combatting Terrorism has been written, and hearings have been held by a Senate committee. The fourth option is to transform the czar from coordinator to agency head. In the case of homeland security, this would mean Congress’ enacting a law taking pieces out of several of those 16 departments and agencies now involved in homeland security and combining them into a single line agency, presumably with Ridge as its head. The Federal Emergency Management Agency; Treasury’s Bureau of Customs; Justice’s Immigration and Naturalization Service and its Border Patrol and part of its FBI; the Department of Transportation’s Coast Guard; Health and Human Services’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and its Public Health Service; State’s visa-issuing authority; perhaps a slice of the CIA — these and quite a number of others might be candidates for a new statutory department, the director of which would have full line operating authority over all of its functions. Even now, legislation to create a Department of National Homeland Security is being drafted on the hill. It is not hard to imagine the cathedral conflagrations that proposals for such a statute might ignite within the Cabinet and among protective legislators and interest groups. Perhaps not surprisingly, then, the White House has signalled that Executive Order 13,228 is adequate for the present and has no plans to try either options three or four. Besides the organizational arrangements, there are other elements that can greatly contribute to a czar’s effectiveness. Examples include the language that the president uses to describe the job and to endorse the incumbent, the president’s giving the czar a berth in the West Wing, and granting quick access to the Oval Office. The president can also direct that the White House czar be the principal spokesperson on the issues — in the press briefing room and on national media — and can make it equally clear that when he or she does so, the czar indeed speaks for the president. The mood of the nation counts mightily; no Cabinet officer wants to appear reluctant or unsupportive of a czar’s initiative when the country is shaken by crisis. PRESIDENT’S POWER In the end, the organization and work of the White House continues to be subject to long-lived verities. In his historic 1939 Executive Order 8,248 establishing the Executive Office of the President as the institutionalized staff of the presidency, Franklin Roosevelt specified, “In no event shall the Administrative Assistants be interposed between the President and the head of any department or agency.” A decade later, the first Hoover Commission warned that “Statutory authority over the operating departments should not be vested in any staff members or staff agency of the President’s Office.” However influential a White House czar may be, the czar’s power is nothing but the president’s power. That was settled in the Constitution in 1789: “The executive Power shall be vested in a President.” Bradley H. Patterson Jr. is a former White House staff officer and author of “The White House Staff: Inside the West Wing and Beyond” (Brookings, 2000).

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