This spring, Obama tapped Douglas Brooks, an HIV-positive health care policy activist to be his administration's AIDS czar. Brooks, who served most recently as a senior member of the Justice Resource Institute in Boston, had been living with the virus for more than two decades.
Brooks is the latest in a string of AIDS czars since 1993, and the third to serve under Obama. The previous two were Jeffrey Crowley, who came to the administration from Georgetown University's Health Policy Institute, and Grant Colfax, who stepped down last year. The czars were responsible for overseeing education efforts and helping to coordinate treatment for people living with the disease, both in the U.S. and abroad.
After at least two other candidates turned the position down, President Bill Clinton appointed the first AIDS czar in 1993. Kristine Gebbie, a nurse and Washington state health administrator who sat on President Ronald Reagan's Presidential Commission on AIDS, took on the role for only a year.
With Klain's appointment, the Obama administration is showing that it's taking the Ebola threat as seriously as AIDS. Frieden compared the spread of Ebola to the AIDS epidemic on Wednesday. "In the 30 years I've been working in public health, the only thing like this has been AIDS, and we have to work now so that this is not the world's next AIDS," he said. Many others who witnessed those "paranoid days" in the late 1980s have drawn similar comparisons, even as politicians such as Sen. Rand Paul have sought to underscore the differences between Ebola and AIDS.
One of the best-known czars is indubitably the drug czar. Gil Kerlikowske, who first came to the office in 2009, stepped down last spring after a tumultuous tenure, and Michael Botticelli, a recovering alcoholic who's received service awards for promoting recovery addiction, was tapped to fill the position.
Bill Piper, director of national affairs for Drug Policy Alliance, a pro-reform group in Washington, told National Journal that Kerlikowske's record was mixed. "It's interesting because, traditionally, drug czars have been propagandists for the federal war on drugs," he said. Kerlikowske's tenure instead signaled a turning point.
The appointment of Botticelli as acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy underscored a shift in the administration's approach to drug policy from emphasizing law enforcement to emphasizing treatment and recovery services. To put it bluntly: Kerlikowske came to the office fresh off a gig as police chief in Seattle, while Botticelli has been open about his struggles with addiction.
Asian Carp Czar
In 2010, Obama named an Asian carp czar to combat the influx of the invasive fish in the Great Lakes. John Goss, the director of Asian carp for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, spearheads the effort to eradicate the species. Goss said last year that $50 million in federal funds would be allocated to programs to monitor and halt the fish's spread in the Great Lakes, including the installation of electric dispersal barriers to discourage the fish from crossing into the lakes.