Pro-business voices — and even some Administration mattress mice — are calling for an NEC director with real private sector business experience: a CEO, preferably a woman to balance the Administration’s all-male economic cabal.
I’m not interested in whether the President achieves chromosomal balance among his advisors, but putting a CEO in the job will most likely be a disaster, however much this Administration needs to mend fences with the business community and gain a better understanding of its concerns.
It’s necessary to actually understand what a director of the NEC does. I’ve heard the job described as the “chief economic advisor to the President” and as the “White House economic spokesman”. While those roles are important, they are, respectively, second and third on the list of responsibilities of the NEC director. The primary, and most critical job is as the coordinator of policy — leading the Administration’s policy-making process.
(For an excellent and thorough review of economic policy making in the White House, see former Bush White House NEC Director Keith Hennessey’s post here)
I’m trying to think of a CEO I know who has great passion for coordination and process.... Nope...I’m drawing a blank. Most CEOs I know are constitutionally incapable of serving in this role.
CEOs are used to leading and being followed. The NEC director’s job isn’t to lead. Instead, it’s to be the “honest broker” on behalf of the President — to ensure that all members of the Administration’s economic policy-making team have a seat at the table, have the opportunity to debate and shape policy, that their concerns are voiced and respectfully considered. The job isn’t to make policy, but to consider, winnow, and develop policy options for the President.
CEOs also tend to have a relatively narrow level of experience on the economic policy issues — they usually have achieved success only in a single sector, if not at a single firm. But the breadth of issues confronting any White House on any given day is vast. Here’s a limited list of the economic issues I expect the NEC has on its plate today:
- Assessing the current economic outlook
- Tax Policy
- Impact of stimulus programs
- China trade and currency issues
- Consideration of Fed monetary policy
- Planning new economic policies for 2011 and the President’s budget
- International development programs
- Preparation for the G20 Summit in Korea and international financial regulations
That’s is a short list, certainly excluding a number of issues I’m not aware of. But with every one of them there exists an agency head with specific expertise, a team of staff, economists, and policy experts back at the agency, and conferred with primary responsibility for making policy. A CEO running roughshod over their legitimate process needs would lead to dissention.