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Q&A: 'Czar' is just shorthand for director title

The nation’s current drug czar is former St. Petersburg police officer Gil Kerlikowske.

Associated Press

The nation’s current drug czar is former St. Petersburg police officer Gil Kerlikowske.

'Czar' shorthand for director title

I have lost count of how many "czars" we have now. Where does their authority to make decisions come from? Is the use of "czars" legal under our Constitution? And who is paying their salary?

Czar is a term that's frequently used by the press to describe an executive branch official who has been given authority over a particular area, either by the president or by law. In many cases, it's simply a shorthand designation for an existing job.

For example, Gil Kerlikowske, a former St. Petersburg police officer, is director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, which was created by Congress in 1988. The director is appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, and is known as the nation's drug czar.

Nancy Ann DeParle is director of the White House Office of Health Reform. President Barack Obama created the position to oversee his health care overhaul push and appointed DeParle to the job. She is commonly referred to in the press as Obama's health care czar.

Kenneth Feinberg, who has been dubbed Obama's pay czar, was selected by the president to implement the executive pay rules Congress established earlier this year for companies that received exceptional government assistance during the financial crisis.

In all such cases, the czars are federal employees whose salaries are paid by the federal government.

Republican Sen. John McCain, who lost the presidential election to Obama, has joked that Obama has "more czars than the Romanovs," the dynasty of czars that ruled Russia for three centuries.

No one has counted them all, though various press reports indicate there may be as many as three dozen or more "czars" right now. To be fair, former President George W. Bush had his share of "czars" too, upwards of 30 during his eight years in office, according to some reports.

Canadians and U.S. health care

Are there any accurate figures as to how many Canadians come into the United States for medical service?

Canadian citizens are not required to hold a visa to enter the United States, so no government agency tracks Canadians entering the country for medical reasons, said Devon Herrick, a senior fellow with Dallas-based National Center for Policy Analysis, which researches medical tourism.

Richard Baker's Timely Medical Alternatives, based in Vancouver, says his company annually helps 150,000 Canadians on medical waiting lists receive care in the United States.

"But lots of others come without the benefit of our help," said Baker, who founded the company in 2003. "There are people who live near the border who come out on their own."

Q&A: 'Czar' is just shorthand for director title 08/30/09 [Last modified: Sunday, August 30, 2009 4:30am]
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