January 24, 2011

Hats Off to Browner

On the eve of the State of the Union address, Politico is reporting that Carol Browner, the President's (and the first ever) energy and climate advisor, "plans to leave the White House in coming weeks." I just wanted to quickly acknowledge her for the tall job she took on. Yep, I am biased: she was a panelist at CNAS's first energy and climate change event way back in January 2008. More recently, she keynoted our April 2010 event marking the release of our report Broadening Horizons: Climate Change and the U.S. Armed Forces. That was in the opening days of the Gulf oil disaster that would prove an enduring and important part of her job. I've long admired that Browner is a real global thinker, and deeply understands security and American power in the world in a broad sen.

But "czars" historically do not last. In 2008 I did a short background paper on the history of czars in the White House, in particular the stream of energy czars the country had. In past cases, they've been positions designed for  very specific purposes and for flexibility - and have often come under strong territorial pressures from cabinet secretaries. I don't know that any such territorial issues played out for the office of the energy and climate czar, but for no other reason than historical precedent I've expected the office to last 2-4 years tops. I'm confident that (assumung Politico is reporting correctly that she's even leaving) whether the office remains as it is or is folded into existing structures, its mandate will remain. And either way, it is something to be seriously celebrated that the Obama adminstration elevated these issues to a special post in the highest ranks of his advisors. Hats off to the Honorable Carol Browner tonight.