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Since controversy began to swirl surrounding then-President-elect Barack Obama's alleged overreliance on policy czars in late 2008, political scientists and pundits alike have been quick to view this approach to White House staffing as an extension of the imperial presidency and, to some, a threat to the constitutional order. In this article, I take a step back and ask whether the phenomenon under attack is exactly what scholars assume it is. In doing so, I investigate the conceptualization problem czars pose as well as how and why presidents actually use czars. I conclude with a series of suggestion for future presidents on how best to use policy czars to advance the interests of their administration and manage the executive institution.

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This is an author-produced, peer-reviewed version of this article. The final, definitive version of this document can be found online at Presidential Studies Quarterly, published by Wiley-Blackwell. Copyright restrictions may apply. doi: 10.1111/psq.12148