Apparently, the central strategy of the Obama transition team is to simply continue having press conferences dribbling out economic appointees and watching the markets bounce. He's either going to be hitting Dow 36,000 in two weeks with the Deputy Assistant Undersecretary of the Treasury or make a gaffe that ends in post-depression dystopia. Well, actually, he's going to announce his national security team after the holidays, but a man can dream, right?
More seriously, I had been feeling a little sorry for Austan Goolsbee, one of Obama's earliest and most impressive economic advisers, Canada-related gaffes not withstanding. He hadn't yet landed any of the high-profile economic advisory positions that many expected him to step into. Today, we learn that he's getting a whole council! Sort of. The president-elect announced the creation of a President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, which will be chaired by former Fed Chair Paul Volcker and have Goolsbee as it's staff director and Chief Economist. Goolsbee will also be one of Obama's three nominees to the Council of Economic Advisers. Volcker, who is 81, will likely present the public face of the council while Goolsbee handles the heavy lifting.
Why a new council? Cue the president-elect's remarks...
[T]his Board is modeled on the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board created by President Eisenhower to provide rigorous analysis and vigorous oversight of our intelligence community by individuals outside of government – individuals who would be candid and unsparing in their assessment. This new board will perform a similar function for my Administration as we formulate our economic policy.
The Board will be composed of distinguished individuals from diverse backgrounds outside of government – from business, labor, academia and other areas – who will bring to bear their wisdom and expertise on the formulation, implementation and evaluation of my Administration’s economic recovery plan. The Board will report regularly to me, Vice President-Elect Biden and our economic team as we seek to jump-start economic growth, create jobs, raise wages, address our housing crisis and stabilize our financial markets.
The reality is that sometimes policymaking in Washington can become too insular. The walls of the echo chamber can sometimes keep out fresh voices and new ways of thinking – and those who serve in Washington don’t always have a ground-level sense of which programs and policies are working for people, and which aren’t. This board will provide that perspective to me and my Administration, with an infusion of ideas from across the country and from all sectors of our economy – input that will be informed by members’ first-hand observations of how our efforts are impacting the daily lives of our families.
I'm skeptical of the need for another advisory council within the White House, especially one that already has a policy-coordinating council (Larry Summer's National Economics Council) and an advisory economics council (Christina Romer's Council of Economic Advisors). On the other hand, getting more intelligent people involved in the policy conversation is on balance a good idea. But I've also understood that the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board as kind of a late-career holding pen for officials in need of a little perk. For instance, did you know Iraq war opponent Brent Scowcroft chaired the board during the launch of the Iraq war, or that the current occupant is someone named Stephen Friedman? So if this new institution is modeled on the current FIAB, I hope it's given some more teeth.