Obama Names Outside Economic Advisers

By Neil Irwin and Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, February 7, 2009

President Obama yesterday unveiled a new team of economic advisers, a group drawn from corporate, labor and academic circles and tasked with providing the administration counsel from beyond his inner circle of aides.

In announcing the White House Economic Recovery Advisory Board, Obama said he was seeking "to ensure that no stone is unturned as we work to put people back to work and to get our economy moving." The group is particularly heavy on executives of companies known for innovation and success in the international marketplace.

The board will be chaired by former Federal Reserve chairman Paul A. Volcker. Its members include Jeffrey R. Immelt, chief executive of General Electric, and James Owens, chief executive of Caterpillar. Both companies have strong sales around the world, though both are encountering hard times amid the slowing global economy; Caterpillar said last month it would cut 20,000 jobs.

The board also includes representatives of labor organizations: Anna Burger, who chairs the labor group Change to Win, and Richard L. Trumka, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO. There are also two prominent conservatives: William H. Donaldson, who served as chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission during the Bush administration, and Reagan administration economic adviser Martin Feldstein, who has supported the idea of a massive economic stimulus package but was sharply critical of the legislation passed by the House of Representatives.

"I'm not interested in groupthink, which is why the board reflects a cross-section of experience and expertise and ideology," Obama said.

Economists generally praised the lineup but noted that, while the team includes several prominent representatives of corporate America, the only Wall Street representative is Robert Wolf, chairman of the American operations of Swiss bank UBS.

"A fatal mistake is always missing something and being too insular and too narrow. What he's missing in all the appointments is financial people," said economist Allen Sinai of Decision Economics, a private consulting firm. Sinai noted that the omission is somewhat understandable, since Wall Streeters have been "totally discredited in our country." But, he said, "decision makers need to keep their eyes and ears open."

There are some financial experts on the board from outside Wall Street, such as Roger W. Ferguson, chief executive of financial services company TIAA-CREF and a former vice-chairman of the Federal Reserve; David Swensen, who manages Yale University's endowment; and Mark T. Gallogly, founder of private equity firm Centerbridge Partners.

It is unclear how much influence the advisory board will have. Obama already has a group of accomplished -- and vocal -- in-house economic advisers, most notably White House economic chief Larry Summers and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner.

"We're also going to count on these men and women to serve as additional eyes and ears for me as we work to reverse this downturn," Obama said. "Many of them have a ground-level view of the changes that are taking place."

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