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Pondering Economic Policy Implementation over the Next Four Years

Summary:
From Reuters today: “It’s becoming increasingly difficult to attract good people to work in this administration,” said one senior official. “In other cases, veteran people with expertise are leaving or seeking posts overseas and away from this White House.” As of today, of the 557 key positions that are presidential appointments, 455 have no nominees, 24 are awaiting confirmation, 49 are formally nominated, and 29 are confirmed, according to The Partnership for Public Service A slightly older tabulation (April 24) shows the progress by department. There was no nomination for undersecretary for domestic finance, no assistant secretary for economic policy, financial institutions, financial markets, financial stability, intelligence and analysis, tax policy (!!!). Kevin Hassett has been

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From Reuters today:

“It’s becoming increasingly difficult to attract good people to work in this administration,” said one senior official. “In other cases, veteran people with expertise are leaving or seeking posts overseas and away from this White House.”

As of today, of the 557 key positions that are presidential appointments, 455 have no nominees, 24 are awaiting confirmation, 49 are formally nominated, and 29 are confirmed, according to The Partnership for Public Service

A slightly older tabulation (April 24) shows the progress by department. There was no nomination for undersecretary for domestic finance, no assistant secretary for economic policy, financial institutions, financial markets, financial stability, intelligence and analysis, tax policy (!!!). Kevin Hassett has been announced for CEA Chair (but not yet formally awaiting confirmation, as far as I know). One would think with tax cuts a priority, one would get Hassett (a tax expert) and a Treasury AS for tax policy pronto. Commerce is pretty much a blank slate as well; as of 4/24, only Wilbur Ross had been confirmed.

Now, I had thought that the slow filling of posts was due to general incompetence in developing a system of identifying and vetting candidates during the transition and afterward. However, I am now beginning to think that there is also a supply problem — that is who wants to work in this Administration?

I’m of two minds here. The lack of filled positions at a policy level has serious ramifications. Career staff cannot make decisions without guidance from above. This is problematic for every-day, long term policy implementation. However, it can take on heightened import if there is a need for a targeted stimulus through tax policy, or a financial crisis, either domestic or international. So we need reasoned and informed policy level people. On the other hand, consider if the economic nominees are like General Flynn (of whom Donald Trump once asked whether a strong dollar was a good thing). Putting into place policy level economic policymakers who for instance believe in self-financing income tax cuts might be more damaging than having nobody in place.

Menzie Chinn
He is Professor of Public Affairs and Economics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison

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