The recent announcement that Larry Summers will be departing as head of President Obama’s National Economic Council (NEC) has prompted rampant speculation about what this will mean for future White House economic policy and process direction.
In my time since leaving the White House as Deputy Director of the NEC for President George W. Bush, I have found that the NEC-led economic policy process is dimly illuminated for the press and broader public. I attribute this primarily to the fact that the NEC facilitates the President’s internal policy coordination, and is not the public face of the Administration’s policies as seen during hearings on Capitol Hill and in many other settings. Nor is the NEC the hands-on administrative implementer of Administration policies, which role is played by individual departments (e.g., Treasury or Labor). The NEC, however, is the vital entity directing the development of policy for all of the above, and more.
Within the White House complex, the President has three leading senior economic advisors: The Director of the NEC, the Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA), and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Each has a distinct role.