The effort to split up tasks is particularly challenging because the Treasury Department had a number of key vacancies at senior levels, with Mnuchin preferring to lead a relatively lean agency. During the financial crisis in 2008, the Treasury Department was largely fully staffed, and it still brought on dozens of additional advisers. So far, Treasury seems to be looking from within for help in managing new relief programs.
Treasury Deputy Secretary Justin Muzinich is under serious consideration to serve in a leading role, including helping oversee a nearly $500 billion program that will provide funding for businesses, cities and states. Muzinich has worked in the past for Morgan Stanley, the EMS Capital hedge fund and the investment firm Muzinich and Co. He briefly served as an adviser to Jeb Bush before the 2016 presidential campaign.
Treasury is also looking to have Undersecretary Brent McIntosh play a lead role on the team deciding how to handle emergency federal aid for airlines. McIntosh recently served as Treasury’s general counsel.
Assistant secretaries Mike Faulkender and Bimal Patel could play lead roles in overseeing Treasury’s involvement in roughly $400 billion in small-business loans. Assistant Secretary David Kautter, meanwhile, is expected to focus on Treasury’s effort to send $1,200 payments to more than 100 million Americans, these people said. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal government matters that have not been publicly announced, and the talks remain in flux.
The major personnel decisions come as lawmakers turn from crafting the largest stimulus package in American history to the equally daunting task of implementing it. Pressure is mounting on Trump administration officials to mitigate the growing economic devastation wrought by the coronavirus, with the retail sector announcing particularly devastating layoffs Monday.
Staving off the economic pain will require immediate executive branch action on the sprawling legislation signed into law by President Trump on Friday. Treasury will be at the center of those efforts, although it is expected to work closely with a number of other agencies, including the Federal Reserve, the Labor Department and the Small Business Administration.
In a matter of days, Treasury officials must decide the rules under which corporations can apply for hundreds of billions of dollars in federal changes to the tax code for businesses.
Trump said last week that his team was speaking to a number of Wall Street firms, including BlackRock, for advice, but the administration has not provided more information about how it will work.
The congressional package signed into law by Trump includes a massive increase in unemployment benefits and direct checks to most American taxpayers. It also includes close to $400 billion in loans to small businesses; a $454 billion fund that can go to corporations, cities and states; and hundreds of billions of dollars in changes to the federal tax code.
Former Treasury officials and other tax experts say the Treasury Department will face staggering challenges in quickly creating massive new federal programs to shield Americans from the economic impact of the virus. That task will be made harder by key vacancies in senior leadership positions at Treasury and the unique nature of the coronavirus, which poses a threat to the health of the federal workforce tasked with implementing the legislation.
“Everybody needs to stop patting themselves on the back: Nobody has done anything yet,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office and president of the American Action Forum, a right-leaning think tank. “This is all about execution now.”
This federal loan program Muzinich is expected to help steer has become the subject of ample partisan debate as Democratic lawmakers have expressed concern it will be used to bail out corporations with little upside for taxpayers.
Questions also have mounted over how quickly checks worth $1,200 will reach households. Mnuchin said they could arrive within three weeks, an estimate former Internal Revenue Service officials have said is unlikely to be achieved.
Kautter, who will be tasked with implementing that program, served as acting commissioner of the IRS and has earned praise from members of both parties. But the success of his work could depend largely on how much support he receives from other parts of the federal government at risk of being overwhelmed.
“They have to make a triage decision about what’s going to get their attention first. Because if you try to do everything at once, you’re going to do nothing at once,” said Ryan Ellis, a conservative tax lobbyist.