On Leadership
Video | PostLeadership | FedCoach | | Books | About |
Exploring Leadership in the News with Steven Pearlstein and Raju Narisetti


The great paradox of the great recession

According to President Obama's new chief economic adviser, Austan Goolsbee, the jobless rate in the United States is likely to remain high for a long time.

But there's one place where there are plenty of jobs open to fill, and that's the President's economic policy and financial regulatory team. There are at least a half dozen unfilled presidentially appointed jobs, according to this story, which are vacant despite their essential role in making critical economic decisions. The reason: the political obstacles and potential conflicts of interest particular to government regulatory jobs, but also a lack of qualified people experienced and willing enough to serve in these roles.

President Obama is faced with a dilemma that many leaders are coping with today. Despite record high unemployment, there are plenty of jobs that are still going begging, either because there are a lack of skilled candidates or a dearth of interested leaders for the role. Call it the great paradox of the great recession: even with nearly 10 percent unemployment, there are still an astonishing number of jobs to fill. As the Wall Street Journal reported in early August, the number of job openings has risen more than twice as fast as actual hires since mid-2009, a phenomenon that happened much later in the last recovery.

Of course, Obama is facing issues that many leaders don't have to deal with in making these top hires. For one, most leaders don't have an army of people in an opposing party ready to swat down any suggestion they make for political sport. In addition, regulatory jobs like these are rife with potential, or perceived conflicts: the very people who are most qualified to fill the job typically have a long history working for the very firms they'll be charged with keeping in check. Finally, the number of people qualified to take on such complex topics as fixing our current economy is extremely limited, making the candidate pool "quite thin," Vanderbilt University political scientist David Lewis told The New York Times. ''There are fewer loyalists available for these positions than people think."

The White House defends the vacancies partly as a result of the President's deliberative selection process, and surely no one wants the wrong people in the jobs. But a slow approach to filling economic jobs is not a new problem. Thanks to an audit-like scrubbing that goes on during the vetting process--some candidates have been asked to find a travel receipt for $20 from three years prior--there are many who simply don't want to go through with it. (And you thought your corporate H.R. vetting process was hard.) And that's all before they're met with the obstruction of the opposing party charged with approving the nominees.

While it does not appear that Obama is dragging his feet on these appointments, filling them should remain his utmost priority. The number one job of a leader is to set the overall direction and then quickly put the right people in place to execute it. Without those people in place, the President will not succeed, no matter how many ideas he may have for moving the economy forward.

By Jena McGregor

 |  September 13, 2010; 10:42 AM ET |  Category:  Economic crisis , Federal government leadership , Government leadership , Presidential leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Falling victim to the 'tyranny of the moment' | Next: Nokia's leadership overhaul


Please email us to report offensive comments.

Due to the loss of any opportunity to work as a farm laborer, and the decline of manufacturing jobs in the US, those with intellectual disabilities have been cornered into a no win situation. Fortunately the SSI has come to their aid and have provided them with a livable allowance plus Medicaid eligibility.

Posted by: morristhewise | September 18, 2010 12:22 PM

Obama probably doesn't have enough people on his contacts list to fill these positions and would rather leave them vacant that appoint somebody who does not have the same ideology as he does. His short political career has probably left him with a short address book to look at and an even shorter list of truly-qualified candidates.

Posted by: GenXer1 | September 14, 2010 12:17 PM

I believe "The Great Recession" is the wrong name for this downturn. It should rather be called "The Millineal Depression". It all started in the first year of the new millineum, 2001. The economy had already taken the dotcom hit when 9-11 gave it another blow. George Bush passed his drug care for senior then led us off into two costly wars while slashing revenue; thus changing course from Clinton's surplusses into the greatest degree of government insolvency of all time. Deregulation undertaken by Republicans in earlier years made the mortgage/housing crisis possible. All these pressures, along with the spike in energy prices, led to the collapse in 2008. This is more than a recession. The quick stimulus action prevented us from falling into an abyss deeper than The Great Depression. It is, nevertheless, a depression, one whose roots start at the turn of the millineum. It should accurately be called "The Millineal Depression".

Posted by: tharriso | September 14, 2010 11:53 AM

Well, one other problem is that he needs to find appointees with the right ideology--i.e., they can't be economists who disfavor raising taxes on anyone right now. Pelosi advisor and liberal economist Mark Zandi (who the Post is so fond of quoting) is now on record as favoring extending the Bush tax cuts for everyone for another year or two. And perhaps Christina Romer is leaving because her research is being cited against the administration and in favor of not raising taxes (a minor SNAFU for the White House). That coupled with all the tax problems Obama's early appointees had (we're looking at you, Timmy Geithner) could go a long way in explaining the cautiousness the White House is showing in filling these positions.

Posted by: Fletch_F_Fletch | September 14, 2010 10:37 AM

The so-called economic "crisis" may have been a deliberate ploy whereby some investors transferred wealth from mainstreet unto themselves. The S&L "crisis" may have been the trial run for the 2008 crash and subsequent downturn. This is elaborated in Professor William K. Black's book "The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One: How Corporate Executives and Politicians Looted the S&L Industry" and is brought up to date in an interview, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sA_MkJB84

Posted by: TeresaBinstock | September 14, 2010 10:25 AM

The delay is political. Obama does not want to get into another fight with the republicans during the mid-term election cycle.

The real question is can he lead?

Obama must go big with a long-term economic plan. The plan needs to include a discussion of how we are going to reduce the deficit over time, what he is going to do in the short term to simulate the economy and a growth plan for the next decade and beyond.

Discussion must be the beginning of a dialogue with the American people about the economy. He needs to reconvene his campaign team of 2007-2008 with the focus of convincing the American people that his plan is right.

Read More: ..... http://xrl.us/bhx56m

Posted by: banicki | September 14, 2010 9:52 AM

Could it be that Obama just doesn't want to make the time to focus solely on the economy? Or perhaps no one wants to jump on a sinking ship and catch the blame for not being able to save the economy? Whatever the reason, Obama is responsible for not putting sufficient resources into the economic problem and instead choosing to focus on middle east peace and a host of other issues that have no direct bearing on Main Street America. We will remember in November.

Posted by: samwoods77 | September 14, 2010 9:27 AM

"Call it the great paradox of the great recession: even with nearly 10 percent unemployment, there are still an astonishing number of jobs to fill."
Not really a paradox. It makes perfect sense. It's one thing to have economic theories that you play around with. It's quite another to have a real situation that puts them to the test--and may show your theories (and you) as a load of bunk.

Posted by: Ali4 | September 14, 2010 8:46 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company