Treasury has trouble filling open spots

The south side of the U.S. Treasury Department building in Washington, D.C.


Kai Ryssdal: Courtesy of the Wall Street Journal today we've got the name of the latest nominee for a high-level Treasury Department job. The paper says Herb Allison -- the CEO of Fannie Mae -- could be in line to run the bank bailout, also known as TARP -- the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Treasury is not confirm anything at all. But the leak does point to an ongoing problem for the department. With fixing the financial crisis at the top of a very long list of things to do, Treasury still has more than a dozen top-level positions unfilled.

TAMARA KEITH: The Treasury Department is looking for a few under-secretaries, assistant secretaries and inspectors -- 13 in all. James Barth is a finance fellow at the Milken Institute. And kidding aside, he says those open positions are critical.

JAMES BARTH: Given all the problems, this is a time to get people in place as soon as possible.

But he says vetting process is intense and often invasive. That's a deterrent for all those jobless Wall Street executives who could make excellent candidates.

BARTH: You don't want to screen too carefully if you're looking for firemen when houses are burning down. You want to get as many competent people working to put out the fires as possible.

While the fires are still burning, the hours are likely to be long. The pay won't even come close to Wall Street wages. That doesn't sound very appealing. Professor Kevin Jacques of Baldwin Wallace College worked at Treasury for 14 years. He says these jobs offer something else: a chance to make a difference.

KEVIN JACQUES: They give you an opportunity to work with some of the best and the brightest policy makers in this country working on issues of incredible importance.

A Treasury official insisted the pace of filling positions requiring Senate confirmation isn't an issue. But NYU Government Professor Paul Light says right now Secretary Geithner needs some key people.

PAUL LIGHT: The political appointees who have the authority to pull triggers on major policy decisions, that's the serious problem that he faces.

Right now Light says Geithner is pulling almost every trigger on his own.

In Washington, I'm Tamara Keith for Marketplace.


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