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At Geithner's Treasury, Key Decisions on Hold

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So far, nearly four months after the Obama administration took power, the Treasury Department is still without a deputy secretary. Two undersecretary positions -- including the vital post overseeing domestic finance -- have not been filled and many other division heads have not been named. The White House vetting of potential candidates has proven arduous, and nearly all of those individuals nominated have yet to win Senate confirmation and fill out Geithner's team.

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"I've seen the effect of this, and I wish he would move quicker to put in his own people," said Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.

Help could soon be on the way. Confirmation hearings for Neal Wolin, the administration's pick for deputy Treasury secretary, began a week ago. Treasury staff members have been impressed by the management skills of former Fannie Mae chief executive Herbert M. Allison Jr., who awaits confirmation as Geithner's pick to lead the bailout operations. The White House is also seeking to bolster the Treasury's ranks by adding former Clinton press secretary Jake Siewert as counselor to Geithner.

Aside from getting officials into place, Geithner still needs to define the roles of his senior counselors and delegate some decisions to lower-ranking officials, several government officials said.

"Tim's nature is to be very inclusive," said an official who frequently interacts with the Treasury. "But there are too many decisions to make with 20 guys around his table."

While federal departments often experience a degree of upheaval when administrations change, the difference between the Treasury of former secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. and Geithner's has been stark. Under Paulson, the department nearly always made its own decisions. The Bush White House, nearing the end of its tenure, hardly intervened.

But now, even minor matters, such as Web site design or news releases, are reviewed by the White House. Staff members detailed from the National Economic Council, reporting directly to Obama senior economist Lawrence H. Summers, roam the Treasury building. Treasury staff members working on restructuring the nation's automakers took much of their direction from the NEC, sources said.

Geithner said he welcomes the input from senior White House officials because they provide intelligent feedback and because he has been short-staffed. After studying the last dozen Treasury secretaries, Geithner said he became convinced that the Treasury needed to closely collaborate with the White House.

But the time spent meeting with White House colleagues on high-priority issues -- from the federal budget and tax policy to health-care reform and a proposed overhaul of financial regulation -- has left him little chance to manage his staff.

"People think he's very, very smart, but he has not exerted a management presence yet," added a source familiar with the Treasury's inner workings. "He's being stretched in a thousand directions . . . but I don't know if that absolves him of responsibility for management."

Geithner insists he has been tending to his staff, reaching out across the department in a way his predecessor never did. He said he encourages anyone with problems to come to him directly and regularly speaks with the rank-and-file.

"I know everyone would like a little more clarity about who's going to be working for whom, which we are trying to give them," he said. "But in the interim we are just trying to get stuff done the best we can."


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