Jeffrey Zients and Obama's Problematic Distaste For New Blood

A blog about business and economics.
Sept. 13 2013 8:23 AM

Jeffrey Zients and Obama's Problematic Distaste For New Blood

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 11: Jeffrey Zients, acting director and deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, testifies before the Senate Budget Committee on the president's fiscal year 2014 budget proposal on April 11, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images

The Obama administration is sometimes slow to make nominations, but they're already telling people that Jeffrey Zients will succeed Gene Sperling as head of the National Economic Council when Sperling steps down. Zients was Deputy Director of the OMB and "Chief Performance Officer" of the United States for the whole first term, and served as Acting Director of the Obama for the first quarter of 2013. The president likes him a lot and he seemed like the obvious choice for OMB Director, but perhaps in response to criticism of the lack of women working on high-level economic policy they went with Sylvia Matthews Burwell instead. Zients was also strongly considered for the U.S. Trade Representative job, and now it looks like his number's come up for real this time.

Everyone says good things about Zients, he's obviously qualified, and his main enemy in DC is the egregious Max Baucus so all around it's a fine choice. What's more (unlike, say, Fed Chair) this really is a job where being the guy who the president has the most personal desire to work with ought to be a major considerations.


But you also see here a trend whose overall direction I think a lot of people find lamentable. On the economic team at least, nobody really comes in from the outside. Nobody even really comes in from the outer reaches of the Obama administration. There's a very strong preference for promoting up within a given pipeline and for doing everything possible to minimize the amount of actual change that happens when even a very senior official such as Sperling leaves. There's no sense at all that it might be helpful to bring in an intelligent person with roughly Obama's values who might be able to offer a new set of eyes on the interlocking set of economic and political problems facing the country.

The NEC gig is, I think, genuinely not the place for that kind of "new blood" initiative. But the fact that Obama hasn't found anyplace to do it is regrettable.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.



Slate Plus Early Read: The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.


Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
Damned Spot
Sept. 30 2014 9:00 AM Now Stare. Don’t Stop. The perfect political wife’s loving gaze in campaign ads.
Sept. 29 2014 7:01 PM We May Never Know If Larry Ellison Flew a Fighter Jet Under the Golden Gate Bridge
Sept. 30 2014 9:32 AM Why Are Mint Condition Comic Books So Expensive?
  Double X
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal. But… What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:36 AM Almost Humane What sci-fi can teach us about our treatment of prisoners of war.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath The Methane Lakes of Titan?
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.