Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, expected to leave his post after four years, is likely to stay on through what promises to be a bitter battle over the "fiscal cliff" and until his successor is confirmed, according to people familiar with the situation.
Geithner is said to want to ensure a smooth transition at Treasury at a time when critical issues are to be decided, including negotiating with Congress over the so-called fiscal cliff, tax reform and implementation of the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul.
How long Geithner stays could depend on how easy his successor is to confirm.
Chief of Staff Jack Lew is viewed as the favorite for the job. Since he's already been confirmed by the Senate, Lew is seen as easy to confirm again.
The former director of the Office of Management and Budget, Lew is known as a whiz on fiscal matters, which will be useful in the fiscal cliff debate and in the broader discussion of tax reform. But some complain Lew lacks banking expertise, despite a stint as chief operating office for Citi Global Wealth Management.
Lew also appears to lack international experience that increasingly is part of the secretary's job. Geithner spent considerable time both as Treasury secretary and, prior to that, as president of the New York Federal Reserve, coordinating an international response to the fiscal crisis and negotiating new international banking rules.
What's become clear since the financial crisis is there's a new test for Treasury secretary: Who has the stature to bring confidence to markets in the midst of a financial meltdown? That's why other names have come up, such BlackRock Chairman Larry Fink, who has both Wall Street and considerable international connections, and Evercore Partners Founder Roger Altman, who served as an assistant Treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton and spent many years on Wall Street.
Inside the Treasury, Geithner is said to be a supporter of Deputy Secretary Neal Wolin. A former deputy assistant to the president, Wolin has the advantage of having worked inside the Obama administration White House. He's also the former president of the Hartford Financial Services Group, a major insurance company, which means he has financial expertise and could help the administration reach out to the business community to repair strained relations.
Long shots also include Undersecretary Lael Brainard, who spearheaded U.S. international financial relations, including G20 meetings and discussions on the
Erskine Bowles, of the Bowles-Simpson Deficit Commission, also served as Clinton's chief of staff, but has not indicated willingness for the job, at least publicly.
—By Steve Liesman, CNBC Senior Economics Reporter