The Julie Myers Nomination, And Its Critics:
In the last week, Michelle Malkin, Red State, the National Review, and many other conservative blogs and bloggers have harshly criticized the nomination of Julie L. Myers to be Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (aka ICE). The basic theme of the criticism is that Myers is a political crony: she's only 36, she's the niece of the outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and her husband is Michael Chertoff's chief of staff. Someone who has used her connections to get such a important job shouldn't be confirmed, the thinking goes.

  Given the reluctance on the Right to criticize the Administration, my first reaction was to assume that these criticisms must be justified. But the more I think about it, the less sure I am as to why the Myers nomination is objectionable. (Full disclosure: I have met Myers once or twice, although I don't think I have ever had a conversation with her.) Although young, Myers has significant experience in law enforcement. She is a former Assistant U.S. Attorney, served as the Assistant Secretary for Export Enforcement at Treasury, and was the Chief of Staff to the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division at DOJ. She is also very smart, as her credentials suggest: she's a Cornell Law grad and former Eighth Circuit clerk. Finally, Myers has the trust of the head of Homeland Security: the Assistant AG at DOJ for whom she served as Chief of Staff was Michael Chertoff himself.

  Critics of the Myers nomination have focused mostly on her husband and her uncle. Her husband is Michael Chertoff's current Chief of Staff, they point out, suggesting that he helped her get the nomination. I don't understand how that is supposed to work: Julie Myers served as Chertoff's Chief of Staff before her husband did. To the extent Myers has inside connections with Chertoff, it's because she worked with Chertoff everyday as his Chief of Staff, not because she recently married someone who has her old job. Critics also point out that Myers is related to Richard Myers, outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But as best I can tell, no one has suggested that General Myers has improperly used his influence to help his niece get the job at Homeland Security.

  What explains the opposition to the Myers nomination? Much of the problem is Michael Brown. Brown resigned as head of FEMA just three days before a Senate hearing on the Myers nomination. Brown's disastrous performance as FEMA head has drawn attention to the question of whether the President is nominating qualified people to staff important agencies, and the timing of the Myers nomination is letting that attention fall on Myers. The Myers nomination provides a particularly convenient focal point on the Right; criticizing Myers lets conservatives blow off steam about the Administration's missteps on Katrina without doing so directly. Finally, my sense is that some on the right object to Myers because they feel she is too close to Chertoff, who has not made enforcement of immigration laws a particular priority. The thinking seems to be that one way to get the Administration to devote more attention to enforcing the immigration laws is to defeat Myers and make sure she is replaced with a more independent leader.

  In the end, I don't know enough about ICE or Julie Myers to say whether she would be an effective leader of the agency. If ICE needs a real shake-up, then we should be debating that in the open, and it may be that Myers isn't the best person to change the agency. There are also legitimate questions about whether she has satisifed the statutory requirements of the position, and those questions need to be addressed. Nonetheless, my sense is that critics are being unfair to Myers by portraying her as an unqualified political crony; I don't see any reason to doubt that she is a smart and competent public servant.
The question, though, isn't whether she is minimally well qualified. Rather, it is whether she is the best - or even among the best - qualified for the job. If not (and despite a good resume, it is hard to imagine she is that good), then her connections appear to have been an important causal factor in her appointment, and concommitantly, the appointment of a person not as qualified for the job as others. The cronyism issue is less about moving from well-qualified folks to non-qualified folks (though in some instances it is this - see Brown) than it is about systematically appointing folks of lesser quality. Like putting cheap, though minimally functional, parts into a car.
9.25.2005 2:52pm
A Blogger:

Can you name any executive branch nominees in the last few decades who were "the best qualified for the job"?
9.25.2005 3:06pm
Bruce Wilder (www):
There are two ways you can look critically at her resume. 1. You can see that she has held a variety of positions as a lawyer and a political advisor, with varying degrees of political responsibility. In that respect, her resume shows she has broad experience, or she is a political hack; the difference in appraisal is subjective.
2. You can see that she has had minimal experience as the leader and manager of a large, hierarchical organization.

It is the latter sort of experience, which is missing from her resume. You can "think" it unimportant, but that doesn't mean that it is unimportant. You can think, as she evidently does, that she can rely on advisors and subordinates to tell her what she does not know.

Would she really be a "bad" executive? What is a "bad" executive? What is "bad" leadership? Is it unwise to start someone at the top of a large organization?
9.25.2005 3:15pm
John Jenkins (mail):
Can someone tell me why cronyism as such is bad? What if she really *is* the best person for the job: should her relationships disqualify her? Don't we have to give the same room to Bush here that we do for other nominations?

If one is willing to argue that the president should receive considerable deference to his choice of Judge Roberts to the Supreme Court because that is the sort of judge the President said he would nominate and the President was re-elected, then with the President having been re-elected on a platform of neglect toward immigration law enforcement, is this the sort of person whom we ought to have expected him to nominate to head ICE?
9.25.2005 3:17pm
llamasex (mail) (www):
Yeh, Myers explains why she should get the job.
"I realize that I'm not 80 years old," Myers testified. "I have a few gray hairs, more coming, but I will seek to work with those who are knowledgeable in this area, who know more than I do."

Why don't we just cut out the middleman and hire someone who is knowledgeable in the area, so Myers doesn't lose important things playing telephone with those who are actually qualified to do the job.
9.25.2005 3:22pm
"Why don't we just cut out the middleman and hire someone who is knowledgeable in the area"

Same reason, I assume, that we don't hire the best soldier to be Secretary of Defense.
9.25.2005 3:26pm
=0= (mail):
I think you're right, Orin, in that this is a proxy attack. Bluntly, it seems to me that Malkin, Redstate, etc. seem to have a bit of a power fetish, and at a time when Bush is looking weak, they're basically putting him on notice.

(And Youth of Christ: did you get lost on the way to somewhere else?)
9.25.2005 3:57pm
Clutter (mail):
"Can someone tell me why cronyism as such is bad? What if she really *is* the best person for the job: should her relationships disqualify her? Don't we have to give the same room to Bush here that we do for other nominations?"

It seems to me there is an important difference between giving the president room to appoint people of his ideological stripe compared to providing the opportunity to appoint a friend of friend. Often, this line is a bit ambiguous and this specific instance appears to be no exception. Cronyism is bad when it leads people to neglect necessary skills when filling a position.
9.25.2005 4:03pm
Anon2 (mail):
Here is why Myers is unqualified:

1. No experience running a large organization.

2. No practical law enforcement experience (being a political overseer at Treasury and being a prosecutor is not the same as actual law enforcement experience).

3. Way too young. If Clinton had nominated a 36 year old lawyer to a similarly sensitive law enforcement and national security position, the Republican Senate would have had a field day mocking him. Bush should be treated no differently.

Surely the Republican Party can field more qualified appointees than Myers. If not, what does that say about the law enforement bona fides of a supposedly law-and-order party?
9.25.2005 5:58pm
cfw (mail):
I think Bush could do worse.

Immigration needs some more original thought than "build more walls, send out more police, have a war on immigrants, lock up those who employ illegals."

I like the idea of doing with Mexico and similar places what we do with Puerto Rico. I hear the average stay of people from PR is about 3 years, compared to much longer for those who come in illegally.

The USA is a place of wages that exceed by a factor of 5-10 the wages in Mexico, etc., but expenses are also higher by a similar factor.

If we let folks from Mexico come and go with say 3-4 year work visas, we squash the coyotes who could import terrorists.

Myers looks like one who could think outside the box more than someone who rose through the ranks at ICE (and would tend to have a bias toward maintaining the status quo or expanding ICE).
9.25.2005 5:59pm
MDJD2B (mail):
Two other young cronies appointed to high positions for which they were not "the best person:"
John Marshall
Robert Kennedy

Experience sometimes equates to stagnation, caution and old, mistaken ways of looking at things. When an orginization is really dysfunctional, a young, inexpert person with energy, ability, and the trust of the person in charge can be the best sort of person to set things right.
9.25.2005 6:05pm
Just to add another piece of data... FEMA executives and their qualifications have been on peoples' minds lately, so it seems appropos to point out that James Lee Witt, who seems to have pretty broad credit as an excellent FEMA head, was basically a crony appointment.

Sometimes people's status as cronies comes about partially because of their competence and skills. I hadn't realized that she was Chertoff's chief of staff. Perhaps we ought to wonder about nepotism with respect to her husband's job?

cathy :-)
9.25.2005 6:09pm
erp (mail):
As a general rule, it's a bad idea to hire relatives no matter how excellent their qualifications.
9.25.2005 6:39pm
M (mail):
To CFW--- Something is a bit weird about saying that we should treat Mexicans like Puerto Ricans since, of course Puerto Ricans are US citizens and so don't "make an entry" (to use immigration terminology) when they come to the mainland. Their legal situation is no different from that of any other US citizen and so it's quite hard (and weird, and a bit disturbing) to say that we should draw parallels with them and Mexicans, or any other non-citizen.
9.25.2005 7:16pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
To throw some gasoline on the fire, I would suggest that attorneys are usually bad choices in this sort of thing. As has been pointed out above, she has no real adminstrative or managerial experience, and her law enforcement experience is minimal.

But in addition, a JD degree provides almost no relevant training for this sort of job, and, I would further suggest, some of the training that a JD provides is counterproductive in a managerial position.

For me, an MBA would be far more useful in this sort of job, or the public sector equivalents. In those programs, you are taught such useful things as how to manage people, how to delegate, how to read a balance sheet, etc. You get none of this in law school.
9.25.2005 7:36pm
cfw (mail):
"Something is a bit weird about saying that we should treat Mexicans like Puerto Ricans since, of course Puerto Ricans are US citizens and so don't "make an entry" (to use immigration terminology) when they come to the mainland. Their legal situation is no different from that of any other US citizen and so it's quite hard (and weird, and a bit disturbing) to say that we should draw parallels with them and Mexicans, or any other non-citizen."

When did PR become a state? I must have missed that. They have no votes for President, no one in Congress. They have a special status.

The point is, by making entry and exit relatively painless (but regulated) we may hurt ourseles little (compared to where we are now) and we may get much better control of the borders.

Those who say people in Mexico will flock to the USA and never leave, for the wages, benefits, etc., should look at PR, where that sort of one way influx does not occur, despite low wages in PR and limited PR government services.

I like the idea of writing laws based on the facts as they are, not based on the sorts of ideas that motivated alcohol prohibition. Again, I suggest some thinking outside the box, rather than "send more guards to the borders, etc."
9.25.2005 7:44pm
John Jenkins (mail):
Bruce, given my personal experience with MBA's, whatever training they may have in those arts is wasted on them, or at least not recalled. Leadership is a function of the individual, not the letters following her (or his) name.

Given that law school is entirely about analysis and problem-solving, I'd say we could use more lawyers in public service, not fewer (not necessarily functioning as lawyers, however), given that most of the time government appears oblivious to the problems in its process and flow.

(I say all of this as a nascent J.D who knows about delegating, managing, and reading balance sheets after doing a long tour in retail management: they are learnable skills that require no letters, I learned them all before I got my first degree.)
9.25.2005 7:47pm
M (mail):
Right- Puerto Rico isn't a state, but Puerto Ricans are citizens, can come in and out of any part of the US just like any other citizen, carry US passports, and can vote in presidential elections and the like so long as they are residents in the continental US. (If you become a resident of Puerto Rico you can't vote for president, either.) So, it's at least a bit misleading to compare the situation w/ Puerto Rico to Mexico since there are obvious important difference. But, you're right that there is also a pretty fair amount of evidence to suggest that if travel across boarders for work were made easier many Mexican nationals would come for short periods of time and return to Mexico rather than staying permanently. (I'm sorry to get the thread off topic!)
9.25.2005 7:51pm
John Jenkins (mail):
w/r/t United States citizenship, Peurto Ricans are not in any sort of special status. They are U.S. Citizens by birth accorting to Section 302 of the Immigration and Nationality Act:

All persons born in Puerto Rico on or after April 11, 1899, and prior to January 13, 1941, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, residing on January 13, 1941, in Puerto Rico or other territory over which the United States exercises rights of sovereignty and not citizens of the United States under any other Act, are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States as of January 13, 1941. All persons born in Puerto Rico on or after January 13, 1941, and subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, are citizens of the United States at birth.

8 U.S.C. ยง 1402.

It would therefore be a violation of the 14th Amendment's P&I clause to deny them ingress and egress to and from CONUS.
9.25.2005 7:53pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Interesting points about the hard Right's serving notice on Bush. The classic response is for the administration to step up the war on the Democrats (we're traitors, remember? Rove said so) in order to bolster its own numbers, and to focus on Enemies Within. Will we see this soon, once the hurricanes quit using the Gulf Coast for target practice?
9.25.2005 8:05pm
Of course, Julie Myers got her start working for Ken Starr and proved her loyalty that way. That's how she got the other DC jobs, and that's why she was nominated for this one.
9.25.2005 8:10pm
murky (mail) (www):
The problem with cronyism in the Bush context isn't what he may be doing for her but what she may do in return. This administration is famous for its code of silence and strict loyalty demands. This choice suggests loyalty is the priority in hiring and that with this selection we're watching the obstruction of transparency and the defense against whistle-blowing in action.
9.25.2005 9:34pm
John Jenkins (mail):
Just as an aside, are there any administrations notorious for their disloyalty and publicly airing their dirty laundry, or is this just another one of those things that the adherents to the out-of-power party always pull out while out of power?

Isn't loyalty something to be cultivated and rewarded?
9.25.2005 9:43pm
Anonymous Jim (mail):
"Can you name any executive branch nominees in the last few decades who were "the best qualified for the job"?"

Robert Rubin?
9.25.2005 9:51pm
Loyalty is to be cultivated and rewarded in the political realm but it should not supplant merit. It's okay for a meritorious candidate to be loyal, but not okay for a loyal candidate to lack (sufficient) merit.
9.25.2005 9:51pm
cfw (mail):
I would also note, in support of turning to an outsider, that the INS under DOJ had a pretty shady reputation as of 1993 or so, at least in LA. Also, the immigration folks did not cover themselves with glory in events that led up to 9/11. So outside blood may have made sense.

Back to PR for a moment. As I understand the situation, PR has on-going debates about a) statehood or b) independence or c) staying the way it is now. Now I believe they pay no income tax to the US while in PR, plus they get to come and go as statutory citizens. Not sure they are more than citizens by statute (implementing a treaty) which I presume either side could decide to set aside.

Treating Mexicans who wish to work in the US for 3-4 years like we treat PR folks (minus the voting in the US) would presumably generate tax revenues, helping to fund ICE, etc.

I am not convinced Bush wants anything to do with the hard-fisted "punish the employers, build walls, hire more cops" approach to ICE that red state folks seem to favor.
9.25.2005 11:25pm
Anon2 (mail):
to CathyF: James Lee Witt was not a "crony" appointment. Prior to being appointed to head FEMA, he had been director of Arkansas' equivilent of FEMA for four years, and prior to that he had been a well-regarded judge. He was clearly qualified for the FEMA position.

to those who think young blood is needed to reinvigorate ICE: do you really think that Myers was nominated to invigorate the organization? A more plausible explanation is that she was intended to be a loyalist who will not rock the boat and make Chertoff seasick. If you want to invigorate ICE, appoint a 50-year old with 25 years of law enforcement experience (all of it outside customs and immigration) and the spine to tell more senior officials what they have been doing wrong.
9.26.2005 12:22am
Decarsu (mail):
Common, folks ... you know this is blown way out of proportion. Orin is exactly right - this is about recent reports of cronyism and the recent FEMA debacle. But may I also add - perhaps there are people out there who would not like a young successful (Republican) female to be in charge of a large law enforcement organization ... but maybe that's just me thinking that.

However, if we were to objectively look at all the possible choices for this position, and if I were to say that there's a former AUSA whose held several key positions in the administration, including chief of staff to the current Secretary of Homeland Security ... and if I posited that this person were nominated to be a Assistant Secretary under that same Department head, no one would blink an eye. But mention the other "suspect" attributes Ms. Meyers allegedly possesses, and some people have a fit.

What's the problem with some young blood, especially when that young blood has law enforcement experience and the trust of those with whom she will be working?

As for management experience, can anyone really point to the head of any federal agency that has has the type of management experience to lead a huge organization? Reading some of the commentary, you'd think that only CEOs of huge corporations are fit to lead federal agencies like this. (As anyone who has worked in the federal government knows, however, it's not political appointees who run the day-to-day operations of an agency. Agency heads generally lead with policy decisions, leaving the "mundane" issues to career employees.)

To those who question Ms. Myers' credentials, I therefore say, who better to lead this agency than a young, ambitious, law enforcement-minded individual who has the trust and confidence of the Secretary of Homeland Security? Sorry if I sound like a cheerleader, but I'm frankly tired of the bandwagon attacks on this public servant.

9.26.2005 1:19am
bp (www):
She is no less qualified than any of Bush's other appointments -- but not all presidents make appointments as haphazardly as Bush has. Clinton's FEMA head was head of the state EMA.

But experienced or not, right after the Brown media/political storm is the worst time for anyone to get an appointment. She's facing scrutiny that wouldn't have existed, from the Left or the Right, one month ago.

My question is: Where were Michelle Malkin and Redstate, and all the liberal anti-Michael-Brown pundits when Brown was appointed?

Hopefully we're learning to be observant of appointment proceedings, but it's probably just temporary backlash.
9.26.2005 10:23am
I just wanted to mention that all of those integral positions she held at DHS, Commerce, and the White House have been in the last 4 and a half years. Meaning, on average, she's spent about 18 months in these three highly important positions. Now, it could be that she was so brilliant in each of these positions that she was repeatedly pushed up the ladder. What seems more likely is that this very politically connected person was hop-scotching from one opportunity to another to build her rolodex.
9.26.2005 10:51am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
My vote for one of the best is SecDef Rumsfeld. He has the true loyalty of his military personel and the respect of a lot of his civilian personel. And he has managed to move along much needed transformation while we are in the middle of a war. This later is a truly remarkable achievement, lost on the public due to the clutter of the wars he is waging.

I would put SecState Powell and Rice up there too. I think in particular Dr. Rice is probably better than any since Kissinger. You might suggest cronyism here, but it is turning out (IMHO) that her close connection to the President IS helping her. Those she deals with know that she speaks for him, and not just Foggy Bottom. I have to add the completely racist and sexist comment that her appearance does credit to our beliefs. You have this diminuative Black woman dominating whatever grouping you see her in. When we go into the third world, and when our competition do, who are they going to trust more - the white country that puts a white man in this position, or that puts a black woman there, esp. given that she is also smarter and more articulate than her competition? What must be remembered is that much of the 3rd world is of color, as is she.
9.26.2005 11:48am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
John Jenkins

I don't disagree that the ability to analyze is important. But I still don't concede your point. In my work experience in larger companies, my best managers have been MBAs, and the worst JDs (with one exception). My first point is that an MBA is going to give you more relevant tools than is a JD. And, secondly, that you are more likely to find people who can manage people well from the ranks of MBAs than from the ranks of JDs simply because there are a lot more MBAs getting the relevant experience. And note that we are not talking hiring the financial analyst who is still, years later, doing just that, but, through a Darwinian process of Survival of the Fittest, has risen through the ranks by being able to manage effectively.

I assume by your comments that you are an atty. or at least have a JD or are working on such, because they seem to portray what I consider the attorneys' arrogance, that their (our) training is the best possible for almost any job.

But one problem is that most attorneys have not managed more than a small number of people. Many MBAs have, and this is something that has to be learned. Not all can do it. I couldn't, despite having both degrees. I am, frankly, not suited by my temperament to that sort of work (which is why I practice patent law). I do best when I have to learn something in depth. The more depth the better. This is a far cry from making things happen when you have dozens of balls in the air at once (I can handle a couple, but don't multitask very well - rather my forte is in concentrating on one at a time).

I do know that many attorneys have to handle a lot of things going on at once - my father had to in his practice. But still, the emphasis is on doing as much of the job yourself or with a very small group. In most legal jobs, there is little incentive or opportunity to delegate work to larger groups, and in particular, extremely large organizations. That is just not how we are trained to work. And note that attorneys are personally responsible for everything they sign - which too makes a lot of delegation difficult.

And the suggestion that this is easy to do I think is mistaken. I frankly don't think that Bill Clinton, one of the smartest JDs out there, really ever got that good at it. He seemed to run his presidency as a series of pizza fueled all nighters, where he would jump into a problem and have to totally master it. In short, he ran the country like a lot of lawyers run their law practices. But every time an attorney does this, he loses breadth. IMHO, proper delegation would make this unnecessary - not that the manager wouldn't have to learn at least some of the details, but not even Bill Clinton could come close to mastering all the details involved in running this country. Indeed, even with his formidable brain, he couldn't come close. So, it seemed like when he would concentrate on one thing, the rest of his administration would flounder - often going off in their own directions (and this is a major problem with the federal government, given all of the agencies and constituencies involved). Oh, and note that Clinton had these problems despite having significant executive experience as governor of Arkansas. What about all those lawyers who haven't been governor of a state?

That is why I am suggesting that you can't just step in and learn delegation and management on the spot. It is something that takes a lot of time and practice to learn. To do it right, you have to have made mistakes - as we all invariably do. You have to have delegated things to the wrong people. You have to have missed important stuff because someone below you didn't keep you informed.
9.26.2005 12:26pm
alkali (mail) (www):
Running a medium-size federal agency is, I'm guessing, about parallel to being the managing partner of a medium-size law firm (say, an AmLaw "Second Hundred" firm). How many of those firms are currently headed by a class of '94 JD? Want to guess?
9.26.2005 1:10pm
My question is why aren't they hiring someone who is experienced in Immigration law and law enforcement for a position that is essentially an immigration cop?
9.26.2005 1:30pm
I know her, I worked with her as a Fed Prosecutor, We both worked on low-level cases (drug mules) together, then she left to go to D.C., her Federal prosecution experience is next to nothing (maybe 2yrs at most), She is only qualified if you believe (like I do) that these jobs amount to nothing anyway.
9.30.2005 5:40pm