Heading up the steps of the U.S. Treasury Department
Heading up the steps of the U.S. Treasury Department - 
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Kai Ryssdal: After what seems like forever, but what has been in reality only about two years, we're almost at the end of the presidential campaign. And transition offices are being set up all over Washington, including at the Treasury Department. Secretary Paulson and the gang have prepared briefing books and installed phone lines to let whoever wins on Tuesday move right in and start learning the ropes. But, make no mistake, Hank is still going to be in charge, as Marketplace's Steve Henn reports.

Steven Henn: No matter who wins next Tuesday, one of the first big decisions the president-elect is likely to make will be naming a new Treasury Secretary. And the stakes couldn't be higher.

Paul Light: Everybody will be watching.

Paul Light is a professor at New York University and an expert on presidential transitions.

Light: More than really any cabinet officer in 50 years, this person is going to be watched very closely and the name of this person is really going to resonate.

At the Treasury Department, planning for the transition is well underway. The Chief of Staff there, Jim Wilkinson, and senior civil servants are leading the effort. And Treasury spokesperson Brooklyn McLaughlin says Henry Paulson is in frequent touch with both candidates.

Brooklyn McLaughlin: He recognizes that a smooth transition is in the best interest of the financial markets.

But no matter who wins, Paulson will continue to call the shots for more than two months after the election. Many major decisions about the bailout are still pending. And even though Obama and McCain have both suggested changes, Light says he doubts they'll get too involved before inauguration day.

Light: This is a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation. The question is whether the Treasury Secretary-designate is going to want to influence policy over the next two months.

If the next administration tries to call the shots, it's still Henry Paulson in charge and the new team could be blamed for his mistakes. But if the newcomers stay out of the debate, they could end up saddled with policies they hate.

In Washington I'm Steve Henn for Marketplace.