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Time for a Quality Czar

September 30th, 2009

czSpeaking of boys who cry wolf, I’d like to return to a favorite subject. Seriously, there is still not enough attention being paid to the state of consumer product safety in this country, and I remain concerned that our biggest product quality failures from China are yet to come. Just this morning, USA Today published an article on the large number of policy “czars” that Barack Obama has in place. There was no mention of a quality czar anywhere in the mix.

“Depending on who’s counting, there are anywhere from 18 new policy ‘czars’ in the Obama administration to several dozen. Critics ranging from conservative talk show host Glenn Beck to moderate Republican Susan Collins to liberal Democrat Russ Feingold say President Obama is trying to centralize authority in the White House and shield his policies from congressional oversight.”

The czar pheneomnon is perhaps a little odd. For more background, here is a quick entry from Wikipedia…

“In the United States the title ‘czar’ is a slang term for certain high-level civil servants, such as the ‘drug czar‘ for the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, ‘terrorism czar’ for a Presidential advisor on terrorism policy, “cybersecurity czar” for the highest-ranking Department of Homeland Security official on computer security and information security policy, and ‘war czar‘ to oversee the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan…One of the earliest known usages of the term was for Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who was named commissioner of baseball, with broad powers to clean up the sport after it had been dirtied by the Black Sox scandal of 1919.

Many in Congress are critical of Obama’s czar plan, according to USA Today…

“‘The question is: What do these guys do, and how much are they costing us?’ says Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga. He is sponsoring a bill to withhold funding from any top policy adviser not confirmed by the Senate, which signs off on Cabinet secretaries and other top officials.”

Others, of course, defend the President…

“Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., complains the issue has been driven by ‘partisan commentators’ who are ‘suggesting this is somehow a new phenomenon that’s threatening our democracy.’ The White House’s czars, he says, are just expert advisers, not part of a ‘Muscovite conspiracy.’

My own takes it that there is no problem to have a network of special advisors in the White House, but, if we do not already have a quality czar, we need to establish one as soon as possible. Such an official could advise the President while serving as a bridge among public and private groups with shared interests (e.g., FDA, CPSC, Chicken Council, Food and Water Watch). Product failures out of China are a new kind of beast anyway, and consumer product safety ought to be at the very top of the administration’s priority list.


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