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Jack Lew, Treasury Secretary: Is He Qualified?

Posted by Larry Doyle on February 28, 2013 9:13 AM |

Jack Lew was confirmed yesterday to be the next Secretary of Treasury.

I am not impressed.

I questioned Lew’s qualifications early on when inquiring as to Who Should/Will Be The Next Treasury Secretary? Nothing I have seen or heard since has given me any greater degree of confidence in this appointment. If anything, I am less impressed now than before. Why so? Well, what exactly are the duties and functions of the US Treasury? From the US Treasury site, we learn the Secretary is charged with the following:

Maintain a strong economy and create economic and job opportunities by promoting the conditions that enable economic growth and stability at home and abroad, strengthen national security by combating threats and protecting the integrity of the financial system, and manage the U.S. Government’s finances and resources effectively.

Not exactly a small job.

Let’s navigate and review the background of the man who will follow in the footsteps of our first Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton, to assess whether he is qualified to fill this role.  The White House site provides a not so critical look at Lew’s background, but we will give him the benefit of the doubt as we learn the following:

Jack Lew is President Obama’s former Chief of Staff. Prior to this role, he was the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), a position he previously held from 1998 to 2001.  Before returning to OMB in 2010, Lew was the first Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, in which capacity he served as Chief Operating Officer of the department.

Chief of Staff? Typically regarded as an administration’s chief hammer in knocking people around to get things done. What does that have to do with creating economic opportunities and promoting job growth?

Lew’s early years were spent as a Congressional aide and adviser prior to a five year stint as a private attorney. His move back into public policy occurred early in the Clinton administration where he worked on the launching of the public service initiative Americorps and health care reform. From there he moved into the Office of Management and Budget, an office he ultimately led for the last two plus years of the Clinton administration.

I guess to this point, one might think that Lew is building a resume that might potentially qualify him for a more senior administration position. But Treasury Secretary? Please, not even close. His work after leaving Washington in 2001 strikes me as particularly unimpressive.

Lew served as Chief Operating Officer of Citi Global Wealth Management and Citi Alternative Investments from 2006 until returning to Washington to work in the State Department for the Obama team. COOs of this sort are, to coin a phrase, “a dime a dozen.” To think that an individual in that role might be Treasury Secretary a few short years later defies credulity.

Prior to his time at Citi, which many believe was more of a pit stop to pick up a check than anything else, Lew served as COO at New York University. Again, big deal.

Lew strikes me as an individual who has had a patchwork career with more of an emphasis on being a numbers/operations guy with a reputation as a hack/hammer than somebody who truly understands markets, finance, employment, and our economy.

Lew’s confirmation can be passed off here domestically because our media has long since foregone being serious when it comes to upholding the public interest. That said, in my opinion, Lew’s appointment sends a signal to the markets and especially international investors that the Obama administration is more concerned with advancing its well defined agenda of increased government intervention than actually promoting true, free market capitalism.

Jack Lew, Treasury Secretary and strong private sector economic programs?

Jack Lew, Treasury Secretary and strong dollar policy?


I think Alexander Hamilton just rolled over.

Thoughts, opinions, constructive criticism encouraged and appreciated.

Larry Doyle

Isn’t  it time or overtime to subscribe to all my work via e-mail, an RSS feed, on Twitter or Facebook.

I have no business interest with any entity referenced in this commentary. The opinions expressed are my own. I am a proponent of real transparency within our markets so that investor confidence and investor protection can be achieved.

  • LD

    … there is the matter of Mr. Lew’s lack of preparation to become the world’s leading financial policy maker. Perhaps he’s the “quick study” that his supporters say, though no doubt he’ll also know how to reach Mr. Rubin at a moment’s notice. For our part, we’re hoping the next financial crisis has the courtesy to wait until 2017.

    The Lew Standard

  • Always Learning


    I am trying to figure out what in the world the picture is that you used in this commentary. Is that a stick of dynamite ready to be lit? Please enlighten.

    • LD

      Always Learning,

      Get used to that squiggle as it is our new Treasury Secretary’s signature and will grace all our newly printed currency once he takes office.

      You cannot make this stuff up.

      A middle school penmanship teacher somewhere is cringing.

  • Barry

    In today’s Washington? Are you kidding? He is perfect!

    As you conclude,

    “Lew’s appointment sends a signal to the markets and especially international investors that the Obama administration is more concerned with advancing its well defined agenda of increased government intervention than actually promoting true, free market capitalism”.

    • LD

      Haha. So true. When the bar is held so “lew” then it is not too difficult to get confirmed

  • coe

    Many government folks do exactly what you suggest LD – take a pit stop in a large bank to feather their own wallets – no crime in that, but one only has to check the private industry performance of the government ex-pats to see that they typically either did nothing at all, or worse, they left a trail of trouble at the bank they worked at – at Citi, each business seems to have a CEO/CFO/TR/COO/CRO/CIO – and any other string of alphabet soup under the sun…Private Wealth is a fancy way of saying charging asset management fees to individuals with plenty of resources – performance has not been proven scintillating given market challenges; and Alternative Investments was a euphemism for using deposit subsidized funding to gamble on speculative investments – my impression is that most of these units were forced to shut down (I bet the ranch they resurfaced in other thinly disguised ways on various trading desks)…clearly the NYU position has nothing to do with qualifying for Treasury Secretary…last guy I think of that transferred from an OMB position to a “markets” role was David Stockman – I don’t think he did a blessed thing at Salomon Brothers but draw a check and write a book. On the other hand, maybe Jack will prove to be the exception – I will take the “under”!

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