Karen Czarnecki

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Karen Czarnecki is the Director of the Department of Labor's Office of the 21st Century Workforce, under Secretary Elaine Chao. She also appears as a conservative commentator on numerous television shows, including Fox News and PBS's women's public-affairs program "To the Contrary," without dislcosing her government post. [1] According to her Labor Department bio, Czarnecki has been appearing on "To the Contrary" for nine years, "in her personal capacity." [2]

Al Kamen reported in the Washington Post that the ethics laws for government employees, as spelled out in the Hatch Act, "restrict income that certain political appointees can earn on the side" and bar "political activity while on duty or in a federal building, or using your official title or position." [3]

Czarnecki's TV appearances were cleared by the Labor Department, though "her punditry is not sanctioned by the department, and her appearances aren't booked by Labor." Czarnecki "files leave papers, even if for a couple hours, before heading off to the studios. The quick appearances are supposed to be freebies, but ... the regular PBS gig does supplement her government pay," reported Kamen. [4]

(Lack of) Disclosure at PBS

Justin Rood reported on TPM Muckraker that Bonnie Erbe, of PBS' "To the Contrary," "said she sees nothing wrong with the arrangement, even when [Czarnecki] ... discussed policies and issues on which she worked. ... The reason the show has not disclosed Czarnecki's day job, Erbe said, was because the government asked her not to. ... 'The only terms on which we could keep her was to not identify her as a Bush person,'" said Erbe. [5]

PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler disagreed with Erbe's statement and policies, writing in an August 16, 2006, column: [6]

My view is that "conservative commentator" is not an appropriate label, by itself, for someone in her position, even if she is not speaking on government time or is speaking for herself and not the department. The fact that Czarnecki was an occasional guest well before her official duties began at Labor adds a new wrinkle, but not enough, in my view, to merit hiding her association with the current administration.
The Deputy Assistant Secretary level is a big and important one at any government agency. Her resume pops up on the Labor Department Web site and shows that she joined up in June 2001, is "a senior adviser to U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao," and says that "Ms. Czarnecki carries out the vision put forward by President Bush and Secretary Chao of a prepared workforce to meet the needs of both workers and their employers." Oddly, if you click on the 27 panelist names on the program's Web site, you get a resume and/or background information for most of them, but not Czarnecki.

In a follow-up column, Getler quoted from Erbe's August 19, 2006, statement, defending her show's vague identification of Czarnecki: [7]

She [Czarnecki] first joined the program 12 years ago and has held several positions in that time, most recently as a Bush appointee at the Labor Department. When she last changed jobs, I did mention her job change on the program, but we have not changed her on screen title, Getler writes on the PBS website I should "at least describe the association verbally to viewers and state that she is not speaking for the department." I did so once about five years ago and am doing so again here.

Getler responded: [8]

What isn't clear to me from Erbe's statement is whether she will now continue to identify Czarnecki, each time she appears as a panelist, as a senior Labor Department official in addition to the "conservative commentator" label. Or, is Erbe only saying that she was doing it once again, on her Aug. 19 show, as she said she did once five years ago. My view is that there are a lot of different viewers and they should be told whenever she appears.
Erbe says "we did not change our relationship with Karen, so we did not feel we were ethically required to change her on screen title." Setting aside the ethics, I disagree with that judgment. What changed, big time, was Czarnecki's full-time job. ... Not only did Czarnecki's job change five years ago, her frequency of appearance on "To The Contrary" increased rather dramatically after she was appointed to the Labor job. According to my count of the list of show subjects and panelists on the program's Web site, which goes back to March 1996, in the five years before her appointment to Labor, she made a total of 24 appearances, which means a little less than 10 percent of the roughly 250 shows during that period. But in the five years since her appointment to Labor, she made 109 guest appearances, by my count, more than four times as many as the previous five-year period.

Czarnecki's Punditry

As identified by Think Progress, Czarnecki's statements on PBS have reflected beliefs on the political and religious right: [9]

  • “This program (No Child Left Behind) has been well funded by the federal government, and states have billions of dollars unspent for education cost. They can apply to doing this.” [4/30/05]
  • Intelligent design doesn’t equate religion with science. It is based on scientific premise.” [5/7/05]
  • [Abstinence is an option for African women], "if Uganda can reduce its HIV infected population 50% to 60 over the years, it’s definitely an option. ... If you have free — you have free choice to choose abstinence." [7/16/06]

As PBS Ombudsman Michael Getler pointed, Czarnecki has made statements on PBS that deal directly with labor issues, raising clear conflict-of-interest concerns: [10]

  • On January 10, 2004, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), who is clearly identified, says that "women see a jobless recovery." Czarnecki answers: "First of all, there's no jobless recovery. We're creating jobs. Maybe not at the pace you would like, but we're creating jobs."
  • On April 11, 2004, in a discussion about the dispute between the administration and union leaders over what union leaders claim will eliminate overtime pay for more than 8 million workers, Czarnecki says, in response to a question by Erbe about certain kinds of possible job losses: "No, it's not true. There's a huge misinformation campaign out there. And let me explain, it's only a proposed rule right now . . . but the bottom line is this, nurses, firefighters, policemen, and first responders won't be affected by this."

Conservative Credentials

According to her Labor Department bio, Czarnecki previously directed the American Legislative Exchange Council's task force on civil justice and health and human services. She worked at the Heritage Foundation, "focusing on federal-executive branch relations and state and local governments." She also "oversaw the Heritage Job Bank, filling vacancies on Capitol Hill, in think tanks, and in the private sector." [11]

Czarnecki worked in the previous Republican administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, serving as a Special Assistant to Vice President Quayle for Domestic Policy and Public Liaison. [12]

SourceWatch Resources

External links


Speeches & Presentations by Karen Czarnecki

Articles & Commentary