Most of President Reagan's top advisers favor replacing Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul A. Volcker when his four-year term expires this August, administration officials said yesterday.
While Reagan has not made a final decision, the officials said, a short list of three to five names of possible successors has been assembled, and members of the president's Economic Policy Advisory Board have been asked their views.
Martin Feldstein, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, is urging that Reagan keep Volcker, who was appointed by President Carter. But most of the other senior administration officials involved in the decision, which Reagan must make in the next month or two, believe he will replace Volcker, officials said.
They said the leading candidates on the "short list" of possible replacements are Preston Martin, a California Republican whom Reagan named vice chairman of the Fed last year, and Alan Greenspan, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Ford White House who now informally advises the Reagan administration.
There are other candidates, and recently some senior presidential aides have discussed, as a "long shot," naming economist Milton Friedman, the Nobel prize winner who has strongly influenced administration and Fed policy with his emphasis on monetary policy. Another long shot, sources said, is Beryl Sprinkel, undersecretary of the treasury for monetary policy, who shares many of Friedman's views.
In political as well as economic terms the Volcker reappointment decision will be one of the most important Reagan makes this year. Volcker has become a symbol of the high interest rates that helped put the economy in recession and drove up unemployment in the first two Reagan years. But he is also a symbol of reassurance to the financial markets for the part he played, through those same high rates, in bringing down inflation.
"It would be very hard to imagine a president who didn't want to name his own chairman," said an informed administration source. "Volcker has been dead in the water for a while," the source added, "and his support has eroded" within the administration.
The source, who asked not to be identified, noted that Volcker had been effective at bringing down inflation, but that he had done it at the cost of high unemployment.
Several weeks ago, administration officials said they were beginning to draw up a provisional list of replacements that would be presented to Reagan as an alternative to reappointing Volcker. Also in the past few weeks, senior White House officials have asked members of the president's Economic Policy Advisory Board for their views on a possible Volcker replacement, sources said.
White House spokesman Larry Speakes, responding to a report in The Washington Times yesterday that Reagan will not reappoint Volcker, said, "In the strongest terms, the president has not made a decision, and when we have something to announce, we will announce it."
Even though the White House is searching for candidates to replace Volcker, the administration has given its blessing recently to the course of Fed policy. Earlier, administration officials had criticized Volcker for the volatile behavior of the money supply and for high interest rates; the fed chairman blamed the rates on record-breaking deficits.