Obama Makes Senior Picks at Treasury Dept.

Lael Brainard will be nominated for the international affairs position.
Lael Brainard will be nominated for the international affairs position. (James M. Thresher - Twp)
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By Neil Irwin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 24, 2009

President Obama named two top Treasury Department officials yesterday, moving to build out a team that has been hobbled by a shortage of senior personnel.

Obama will nominate Neal S. Wolin, an insurance executive and former Treasury general counsel, as deputy Treasury secretary, and Lael Brainard, a Brookings Institution scholar on the global economy, as undersecretary for international affairs. The administration will also retain Stuart A. Levey, who was undersecretary for financial terrorism matters under the Bush administration.

Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner is the only senior official to have been confirmed by the Senate to date. That has made for a difficult situation as the department developed its response to the deepest financial crisis in decades, a painful recession and the near-collapse of the U.S. auto industry.

The administration has had trouble finding senior staffers who are willing to dispose of their personal investments during a downturn to avoid conflicts of interest, and who can survive an intense vetting process. The problem is compounded by the political pitfalls of naming Wall Street executives, given the huge bailouts that major banks have received.

Assuming Wolin is confirmed, his nomination closes a long and public search for Geithner's No. 2. Annette L. Nazareth, a former member of the Securities and Exchange Commission, and H. Rodgin Cohen, a leading Wall Street lawyer, were both close to taking the job in recent weeks before bowing out.

Wolin has been president and chief operating officer for property and casualty operations at Hartford Financial Services Group, and before that he was Treasury general counsel in the final years of the Clinton administration. He also once worked on the Clinton National Security Council staff and as a special assistant to three CIA directors. He also was once a lawyer at Wilmer Cutler & Pickering.

Brainard was an economic staffer in the Clinton White House and more recently was founding director of the Brookings program on global economy and development. She is likely to be Geithner's point person for the delicate task of coordinating economic policy with policymakers around the world.

Brainard has also taught applied economics at MIT's business school, where she studied global outsourcing and unemployment, and worked at the consulting firm McKinsey & Co.

Levey was the first Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, a job created after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. His office has pursued financial institutions that deal with Iran and North Korea and the financial networks of al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

He was also acting Treasury secretary for the six days between the end of the Bush administration and Geithner's confirmation.

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