No room for mistakes in Obama's new team

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 November, 2008, 12:00am

There is no doubting the talent of those tapped by US president-elect Barack Obama to lead his economics team. Treasury secretary nominee Timothy Geithner and choice for top adviser, Lawrence Summers, have vast experience in top-level government positions. They have the background that is essential for formulating and implementing a strategy to pull the US and, by association, the world, from the financial turmoil it is mired in. With the incoming administration's in tray already bulging with such matters, it is important that Congress promptly confirms their nominations so that they can hit the ground running when President George W. Bush steps aside on January 20.

Mr Obama has rightly made fixing the broken US economy his priority. His announcing his economics team ahead of other cabinet positions plainly makes this point. He has accentuated this in his choices. Mr Geithner, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the US' most important financial body after the US Federal Reserve, has been directly involved in implementing the Bush government's bailout efforts of financial institutions. He has served five treasury secretaries, worked with the International Monetary Fund and well knows the importance of Asia to the global economy. Dr Summers, a former treasury secretary, has been president of Harvard University and chief World Bank economist.

Both men are amply qualified for the jobs they have been selected for. They both held high positions in the administration of former president Bill Clinton and helped steer a way out of the 1997 Asian economic crisis. But as worthy as they may be, they are not without their faults. They were also in part behind the financial policies that have got the US into the mess that it is in today.

Mr Obama, in making his announcement, said his economics team had to start work immediately 'because the truth is we do not have a minute to waste'. Now that specific measures have been unveiled, it must begin the task it has been set. This will not be easy given the scale of the problems revealed and the high probability that worse lies ahead. For those leading the team, mistakes made in the past have to be taken on board so as not to be repeated.