Saturday, February 28, 2009

Understaffing at Treasury

Paul Volcker is obviously right that it's shameful that the Treasury Department is so badly understaffed right now (the "Treasury Officials" page is hilarious):

"There is an area that I think is, I don't know, shameful is the word," Paul Volcker said this morning at a Joint Economic Committee hearing. "The Secretary of the Treasury is sitting there without a deputy, without any undersecretaries, without any, as far as I know, assistant secretaries responsible in substantive areas at a time of very severe crisis. He shouldn't be sitting there alone."
Felix Salmon agrees (the same Salmon who called the lack of detail in Geithner's banking rescue "inexplicable" a couple weeks ago). Salmon considers this a huge blunder by the Obama administration, as well as an indication that the Obama administration is being managed inefficiently. This isn't the Obama administration's fault. The reason Geithner is sitting there alone is that the top 33 positions in the Treasury Department are Senate-confirmable, and not only does that slow down the hiring process by introducing political factors into the search, but the Senate confirmation process also takes a long time. The following Treasury positions are Senate-confirmable: Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Undersecretary for Domestic Finance Assistant Secretary for Financial Institutions Assistant Secretary for Financial Markets Assistant Secretary for Economic Policy Undersecretary for International Affairs Assistant Secretary for International Financial Markets and Investment Policy Assistant Secretary for International Economics and Development General Counsel Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs All of these officials have to survive a Senate confirmation hearing in a brutal political environment, especially for anyone who has ever worked on Wall Street (at any point during his/her life). Even if the Obama administration announced nominees for all of these positions tomorrow, it would still take weeks to get them all confirmed—and that's assuming they all do get confirmed, which isn't a foregone conclusion in the current environment. People seem to be surprised that the Treasury is understaffed. Do people think entire federal executive departments are magically staffed in the first week or something? The Treasury won't be fully staffed until June at the earliest, and it's one of the smallest executive departments. Washington is slow. Always has been, always will be.


Donald Pretari said...

Can't people be hired to do work before they are confirmed? Departments often go out and hire independent contractors. Or is that they can't leave their current positions until they are confirmed? It does seem possible for Geithner to have been able to hire help, although he would not have a full staff.

Don the libertarian Democrat

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