Treasury Secretary's Choice for Deputy Withdraws

March 6, 2009 - 6:05 AM
As markets quake and Treasury confronts the worst economic crisis in decades, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has seen two people he had hoped to name to key posts withdraw from consideration.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner testifies on Capitol Hill on Thursday, March 5, 2009, before the House Budget Committee. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Washington (AP) - Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is having trouble filling the ranks of his senior staff.
 
As markets quake and Treasury confronts the worst economic crisis in decades, Geithner has seen two people he had hoped to name to key posts withdraw from consideration.
 
Annette Nazareth, a former senior staffer and commissioner with the Securities and Exchange Commission, made "a personal decision" to withdraw from the process, according to a person familiar with her decision.
 
The decision followed more than a month of intense scrutiny of her taxes and multiple interviews. No tax problems or other issues arose during Nazareth's vetting, said the person, who requested anonymity because Geithner's choice of Nazareth was never announced officially.
 
"She did put a great deal of consideration into the potential of taking the position, and she concluded that she really enjoys what she's doing now," this person said.
 
Though popular in policy circles, Nazareth has drawn criticism for her role in creating what some considered to be lax oversight of the banking industry.
 
Nazareth, 53, a partner at the law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell, could not be reached for comment. Treasury and White House officials said they would not comment.
 
Geithner has been criticized for staffing his department too slowly as it grapples with a banking crisis that has crippled the economy. Uncertainty about Treasury staff also has unnerved financial markets.
 
Five weeks into his tenure, he has yet to name a single top deputy or assistant secretary. This has left Treasury with too few people authorized to make decisions or represent the department in meetings with stakeholders.
 
After initially declining to comment, Treasury spokesman Isaac Baker emailed a statement saying 50 political appointees at the department already are hard at work.
 
"Any rumors of vetting problems or delays in the process are simply not true," Baker's statement read.
 
The department has been meeting with members of the financial services industry as it oversees the government's $700 billion financial bailout and other parts of President Barack Obama's financial stabilization plan.
 
But at a Senate hearing Thursday about failed insurance giant American International Group Inc. -- which has received four separate bailouts totaling more than $170 billion -- Sen. Chris Dodd said he had asked Treasury for someone to appear, but that no one was available.
 
"I am not pleased that we don't have someone here from Treasury to explain what their role in this is," Dodd said.
 
Geithner's choice for undersecretary of international affairs, Caroline Atkinson, also withdrew from consideration, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.
 
Some at Treasury and other financial regulators had looked forward to Nazareth's appointment. She is well-known in policy circles and is close with Geithner and Obama economic team members, including Paul Volcker, a former Federal Reserve chairman.
 
Nazareth joined the SEC in 1998 as senior counsel to then-Chairman Arthur Levitt, later directing the Division of Market Regulation. She is credited with creating numerous key policy changes.
 
She created the voluntary program intended to supervise large investment banks including Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and the now-defunct Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch. The program was canceled in September as the financial crisis erupted and the remaining investment banks converted themselves into bank holding companies.
 
Some on Capitol Hill had expressed concern that Nazareth was too closely associated with the weak federal oversight that contributed to the banking collapse. Among her responsibilities at Treasury would have been overseeing the creation of a new regulatory system for large financial institutions.
 
Geithner told a Senate panel Wednesday that he hoped "to come up for the committee soon with a full slate of very strong people."
 
"We're doing this carefully, as you would expect, and ... trying to make sure we have the best talent in the country," he said.
 
Geithner's lack of a senior staff has raised concerns on Wall Street.
 
"This doesn't help confidence," said David Wyss, chief economist at Standard & Poor's in New York. "Geithner is stuck there all by himself trying to do everything. They don't have anybody confirmed, and Treasury is a big shop to try to run with one person, especially right now."
 
Wyss, who previously worked at the Federal Reserve, said the administration needed to have made a much bigger push before taking office to get people cleared to take over the top jobs at Treasury so that Geithner could assemble his team quickly.
 
David Jones, head of Denver-based economic consulting firm DMJ Advisors, said that Geithner's missteps in putting together a financial rescue program and his inability to assemble a team at Treasury were raising concerns about whether the new administration's economic team is up to the challenges confronting them.
 
"There is no question that Wall Street is losing patience," said Jones, who for more than three decades served as a top economist at a major bond trading firm. "If there was ever a time when we need an effective and strong Treasury secretary, it is now."
 
Jones said that investors had initially viewed the economic team that Obama was assembling favorably because it included experienced hands such as Summers and Volcker.
 
"There were high expectations for this team, but at this time of crisis, it doesn't seem to be functioning effectively," Jones said.
 
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AP Economics Writer Martin Crutsinger contributed to this report.