To fill three seats on the Federal Reserve’s board of governors, the Obama administration is balancing seemingly contrary needs.
It could use the expertise of an outsider with Main Street credentials, but savvy in bank regulation; a veteran of complex financial deals, but not associated with the bailed-out banks of Wall Street; and an esteemed economist, but one whose vision extends beyond fighting inflation.
The formerly obscure Fed board has, if not quite the visibility of the Supreme Court, the burden of being under greater scrutiny than at any time in nearly 30 years.
As they vet potential candidates, Lawrence H. Summers, director of the National Economic Council, and Timothy F. Geithner, the Treasury secretary, are balancing their own desires with political pressures from within and outside the White House.
Among the potential unconventional nominees whose names have been floated in recent days are Martin D. Eakes, a North Carolina lawyer who helped found Self-Help, a community development fund for low-income borrowers; Peter A. Diamond, an M.I.T. economist and an authority on Social Security and pensions; Alan B. Krueger, a Treasury economist on leave from Princeton, who has studied labor, inequality and terrorism; and Jared Bernstein, an adviser to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and a longtime advocate of liberal economic views.
According to several people who have been briefed on the search process, Mr. Summers, a former Treasury secretary and Harvard president, and Mr. Geithner, a former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, both favor economists with impeccable academic credentials, but they also recognize the need for candidates with regulatory experience and community ties.
Janet L. Yellen, who was a Fed governor and chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Clinton administration, has been mentioned as a front-runner to succeed Donald L. Kohn, the departing vice chairman.
But the people briefed on the process said it was not clear that Ms. Yellen, now president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, would want to return to Washington. The White House might have to do some arm-twisting to get her; as vice chairwoman she would make $179,700, less than half her current pay.
Another potential candidate for vice chairman would be Benjamin M. Friedman, a Harvard political economist.
When Mr. Geithner held a meeting last month with leaders of labor, civil rights and consumer groups to discuss overhauling financial regulation, he found the conversation steering to the Fed, according to several participants.
Advocates called on Mr. Geithner to appoint governors who could make the Fed more representative and accountable. Diversity is likely to be another consideration. Of the 87 governors since 1914, there have been seven women and three African-Americans.
“It would really be helpful if they had knowledge of the real economy,” said William W. Sherrill, a former Fed governor who teaches entrepreneurship in the Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston. “All the attention lately has been on rescuing the financial sector from ruin, but the inability to move the stimulus over to the real economy — and most directly, small businesses — has been the problem.”
Several banking executives, who have been supporters of Mr. Obama, have been cited as possible nominees: Paul Calello of Credit Suisse, Robert Wolf of UBS and Steven G. Thieke, a veteran of the New York Fed who retired a decade ago from JPMorgan Chase. All have the advantage of not having worked recently at the financial institutions that were at the center of the credit crisis and were bailed out by the Treasury and the Fed, though their ties to the banks could still be problematic.
But speculation that the White House might turn to nominees not too closely tied to Wall Street or Washington was enhanced after Christina D. Romer, the chairwoman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, told several news organizations on Friday that she did not intend or expect to be considered.
Ms. Romer is an authority on the Great Depression, like the Fed chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, and has closely studied the Federal Open Market Committee, the Fed’s policy-making arm. Her main scholarly collaborator has been her husband, David H. Romer, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, who has himself been mentioned as a possible nominee.
“There’s obviously a process under way, as there are with any positions,” Ms. Romer told Politico. “But I certainly won’t be one of them.”
The people briefed on the talks spoke of several economists with ties to Mr. Summers and Mr. Geithner: Edwin M. Truman of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a veteran of the Fed and the Treasury; the Harvard professors Jeffrey A. Frankel, Jeremy C. Stein and David S. Scharfstein; and David A. Lipton, a former Treasury official who is now at the National Security Council.
Other names that have been mentioned include Laurence M. Ball, an economist at Johns Hopkins; Austan Goolsbee, a member of the Council of Economic Advisers; and Jason Furman, a deputy to Mr. Summers.
All of the potential nominees mentioned in this article either declined to comment, citing the confidentiality of the process, or did not respond to requests for comment.
For their part, consumer advocates said they were closely watching the selection process.
“I hope they will give serious consideration to adding people who understand and care about the financial needs of consumers, and who know how to balance access and protection,” said Jennifer Tescher, director of the Center for Financial Services Innovation, and a member of the Fed’s Consumer Advisory Council.