Politico notes the rise of the czars under President Obama: People who report directly to the President who will direct various areas of policy. In part, this is an old story. We have had such czars for a while, and the new President is simply adding more.
Ever since civil service laws were created, Presidents have struggled to find a way to get employees that they cannot fire to do their jobs in general, and to do them as the President would like in particular. But the trend was increased in the Progressive era when belief in checks and balances was thrust aside an the rule of experts was embraced.
Many Progressives were fond of the idea that the best governent was that of a benevolent dictator. Beyond that, in the early 20th century the social science PhD was young, and Progressives had faith that modern social scientists would find the right answer to tough questions by dilligent investigation and study. Hence the American constitutional system of checks and balances was seen as an anachronism, a legacy from the 18th century that needed to be jettisoned. Combie the two, and you have a real problem.
Michael Uhlmann did a good job describing the problem in a recent essay in the Claremtont Review of Books. In particular, he quotes Gary Lawson:
This reluctance to vest the president with control has sometimes expressed itself in the form of independent agencies (independent, that is, of the president), which mock the idea of separated powers by vesting legislative, executive, and judicial functions in the same institution. Consider Boston University law professor Gary Lawson’s provocatively compelling description of the Federal Trade Commission, which typifies the workings of the system as a whole:The rise of the czars is at once a reaction to this problem and something that, in the past, has only made the problem worse in the long term. The bitterness of modern American political argument is, I suspect, partly a result of the number of political issues that the modern administrative state has removed from the political system. The Courts have done the same thing. (In 1973, for example, they took from the people the right to legislate about abortion). The result is ironic: there is more shouting precisely because there is less actually to legislate about.
"The Commission promulgates substantive rules of conduct. The Commission then considers whether to authorize investigations into whether the Commission’s rules have been violated. If the Commission authorizes an investigation, the investigation is conducted by the Commission, which reports its findings to the Commission. If the Commission thinks that the Commission’s findings warrant an enforcement action, the Commission issues a complaint. The Commission’s complaint that a Commission rule has been violated is then prosecuted by the Commission and adjudicated by the Commission. This Commission adjudication can either take place before the full Commission or before a semi-autonomous Commission administrative law judge. If the Commission chooses to adjudicate before an administrative law judge rather than before the Commission and the decision is adverse to the Commission, the Commission can appeal to the Commission. If the Commission ultimately finds a violation, then, and only then, the affected private party can appeal to an Article III court. But the agency decision, even before the bona fide Article III tribunal, possesses a very strong presumption of correctness on matters both of fact and of law."
This pattern has become an accepted feature of the modern administrative state, so much so that, as Lawson notes, it scarcely raises eyebrows. Presidents and Congress long ago accommodated themselves to its political exigencies, as has the Supreme Court, which since the 1930s has never come close to questioning independent agencies’ constitutional propriety.