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The president’s nominee for the number-three job at the Treasury Department, Antonio Weiss, sent a letter to the White House, withdrawing from the process, after a confirmation fight driven by Senate Democrats. Instead, Weiss will become a top adviser to the treasury secretary.
These types of arrangements are becoming more and more common, as nominees either can’t get confirmed or don’t want to go through the confirmation process.
So, what’s difference, really? Does the adviser have the same amount of power, without the pain of confirmation?
Depends who you ask.
“He’ll have, perhaps a secretary, but no staff. And he’s not part of the established task forces in the White House,” says Robert Shapiro, an undersecretary of commerce in the Clinton administration.
Shapiro says advisers don’t have the legal authority of someone who’s been confirmed. Still, advisers who are close to a secretary or president can be quite influential. Especially if everybody knows they’re close to power.
“A lot just depends on the individual relationship and the reputation of that person in the Washington community. The reputation for power is power,” says Jack Pitney, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College.
All those powerful people aren’t cheap. Paul Light, who teaches public service at NYU, estimates that President Obama has 1,500 to 2,000 advisers. Light says all those bodies can cause inefficiency.
“Well, it’s like the childhood game of telephone, where you tell a secret to the person next to you, and that person passes it on, and eventually it gets distorted or dropped,” he explains.
And Light says whoever’s responsible for the drop or distortion doesn’t get in trouble, because there’s little accountability for advisers. Congress can’t collar them and call them on the carpet, the way they could with someone whose nomination they’d approved.
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