Jeff Zients has finally gotten the nod for a top spot in the White House, after making things more difficult for himself than necessary.
President Obama said he would name the twice-serving acting Office of Management and Budget director as his chief economic adviser. The 46-year-old will become director of the National Economic Council, a position that, crucially, does not require Senate confirmation.
Freedom from a Senate vote is important because Zients has annoyed some important Washington politicians who could have tripped up his advancement.
After Obama tapped him to be the first chief performance officer in 2009, Zients tried to make the government more efficient and ran afoul of some Capitol Hill power brokers who later impeded his career in the federal government.
In particular, Zients’ recommendation that some jurisdiction over trade policy be transferred from the Senate Finance Committee to the Department of Commerce irked committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont. As a result, Zients was never nominated to become the official head of the OMB or the U.S. Trade Representative, even though Obama was said to have favored him for the posts, both of which would have required the approval of Baucus’ committee.
But Baucus says he is perfectly happy to have Zients advising the president on economic issues. The senator called him a “solid choice” and said that “his time leading the Office of Management and Budget has him well prepared for this new role.”
As NEC head, Zients will be responsible for helping the president formulate economic policy. The NEC is distinct from the Council of Economic Advisers, an agency currently run by Jason Furman tasked with providing the president with academic economic consultation. Zients, who doesn’t have a degree in economics, will help the president manage the administrative and political processes involved in making decisions relating to economic matters.
Zients is one of the few top members of Obama’s inner circle of economic officials who has not been associated with the Democratic Party economic policy apparatus since the Clinton administration. He will replace current NEC director Gene Sperling, a member of Obama’s economic team since 2009 and a veteran of the Clinton NEC.
Before joining Obama’s OMB, Zients spent his career in the private sector. Prior to working for the government, Zients had run his own private investment firm. Before that, he made a sizable fortune as chairman of the Corporate Executive Board and then the Advisory Board Co., both consulting firms founded by David Bradley.
"I've worked with 6,000 colleagues in my career. I've not see Jeff's equal and maybe never will," Bradley, who now owns Atlantic Media Co., told the Washington Examiner.
Zients, a Washington native, graduated from St. Albans School and Duke University. He is married and has four children.