Expansive Role of White House Staffers Undermines Good Government

Lurita Doan

10/17/2011 2:15:00 PM - Lurita Doan

In April of 2009, President Obama made a key decision to dramatically expand and extend the role of White House Staffers, giving them the power and responsibility to intervene in just about every decision throughout the federal government. Though hardly noticed at the time, Obama directed that Office of the White House Public Liaison be renamed as the Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs, headed by his friend and political confidant, Valerie Jarrett. The many new Liaisons were recruited from the most fervent young campaign workers, all of whom were fervent Obama supporters, but who had limited experience in government or in the work of the many agencies in which they would be imbedded.

Inevitably, these new, young and inexperienced White House Liaison officers too often redirected the work of career government servants to meet more expedient political needs of the Obama Administration. The result has been a disaster.

Greg Nelson, White House Liaison, has his fingerprints all over the Solyndra deal, including emails between him and Solyndra executives regarding President Obama's trips, the half a billion dollar federal loan and meeting with Carol Browner the Energy Czar. Denise Gitsham, former White House liaison at DOJ, now a lobbyist and D.C.based executive at Sapphire Energy which received over $100 million in federal government loans and announced by President Obama and DOE Secretary, Steven Chu. You can also bank on the fact that as the investigations move forward, further examination of email correspondence would likely show a more detailed connection and knowledge of activities of the DoE White House Liaison in bypassing normal the normal review process under the control of career government servants, in a forlorn attempt to gain some political benefit by rewarding Obama supporters and helping friends.

The congressional inquiry into Fast and Furious also has at its core who and what the White House did or did not know. In the emails released so far, Kevin O'Reilly, a White House Liaison for North American National Security issues, is drawing increased attention from Congressional Oversight committees regarding his role in unraveling the disingenuous statements being made regarding who knew, what and when.

Clearly, Obama's new young White House Liaison Officers seem to be the critical players in so many of the scandals now erupting. Obama's White House Liaison officers, working under the direct control of Valerie Jarrett and embedded into every single federal agency are, for the most part, unqualified and inexperienced. Worse yet, unless the decision to empower these young White House Liaison Officers with the ability to disrupt and intervene in agency decisions is revoked, more scandals seem inevitable.

To understand just how far the Obama White House has extended the role of White House Liaisons, some background is required. White House Liaisons work in each federal agency, reporting back to the White House on agency activities, ostensibly to improve communications between the White House and the Senate-confirmed agency leaders.

Each executive Branch agency has a White House Liaison / Office of Public Engagement staff member, typically, the liaison tends to be a young-ish person who worked hard in the presidential campaign, has some ties close to someone who is close to the president, is unwilling or unable to pass the security checks or congressional scrutiny required for senior jobs within the agency, and spends most of his or her time reporting back to the White House on agency activities. White House Liaisons are usually picked for their ideological purity and almost blind faith in the President.

Supposedly, White House Liaisons are embedded within the federal executive agencies to improve the collaboration and communication between the President, the White House advisors, such as czars and the Senate-confirmed agency leader and. But, more often than not, the Liaison inserts yet another layer between the President and his Senate-confirmed Cabinet. Worse yet, White House Liaisons are given the authority to directly intervene in agency decision-making, subverting political goals for good government. In short, the liaisons represent a shadow government that diminishes the effective running of a government agency by the Senate confirmed leader.

As Americans watch Congressman Issa’s probe into the Department of Justice, ATF and Fast and Furious or Congressman Upton’s inquiry into the Solyndra debacle, there is almost certainly White House Liaison involvement close to the center of the controversies.

The sad truth is that the president rarely meets with his Cabinet, preferring instead to get guidance from the plethora of czars and junior White House staffers who surround him and insulate him from public opinion or any close reliance on factual data that might affect the president's decisions. Most interactions occur through surrogates. Given this kind of scenario, miscommunications are bound to occur.

It is also important to understand that this kind of problem isn't unique to the Obama White House. The White House Public Liaison “has been a persistent, clearly identified White House staff specialization since the Ford administration. The recent Bush Administration had a cornucopia of problems with its White House Liaisons. Youth, ambition and huge amounts of power left unmanaged create a dangerous cocktail in any administration.

Unfortunately, President Obama made the disastrous decision to push White House Liaisons even further into inappropriate political decision-making and, like a noxious virus, these inexperienced political hacks, under the direct control of political advisor Valerie Jarrett, are corrupting good government and the mostly honest efforts of career government officials.

It is time for White House Liaisons to be recalled and dismissed. Congress should no longer tolerate the existence of a shadow government, that has the goal of politicizing virtually every decision, while simultaneously hiding behind executive privilege to further cloud responsibility when things, inevitably go wrong.

President Obama shouldn't tolerate it either.