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January 10, 2013

Lew Seen Outside Mold of Past US Treasury Secretaries

by VOA News

Jacob Lew, U.S. President Barack Obama's choice to be the next Treasury secretary, is outside the mold of the usual choices for American finance chief, the official with his signature on the country's green-hued currency.

​​Most secretaries of the Treasury have been established economists from the country's most prestigious universities or Wall Street finance executives. Lew has made his mark in Washington, serving stints as Obama's budget chief and most recently as his White House chief of staff.

The dean of the Hofstra University business school in New York, Patrick Socci, said the contrast in Lew's background is a "radical shift" for the Treasury.

“He's just coming with a different tool kit. He’s certainly an intelligent man, absolutely," he said. "And he certainly has certain skills, but it’s just not the typical set of skills that one would expect in a secretary of the Treasury.”

Socci questioned whether Lew will have the standing to talk with American corporate executives about how to boost the sluggish growth of the world's largest economy.

“I don’t think he has the gravitas to sit with CEOs of major corporations to talk about the business environment, and how to move commerce along and create jobs,” he added.

Mark Vitner, the senior economist for the large Wells Fargo Bank, said he does not see any problem in Lew's nomination being confirmed by the Senate.

“I think it’s a very safe choice by the president because Lew is likely to represent the administration’s view on economic policies very well and that’s going to be important very soon as we negotiate all the debt deals that are going to come due in March," he said.

Vitner said Lew's lack of an extensive Wall Street background or credentials as an economist will not matter.

"He’s going to be thrown right into the mix and I don’t know that the lack of experience is the same thing as the lack of knowledge,” Vitner said.

Lew, however, does face one challenge, altering his signature to make it passably recognizable for use on U.S. currency. At the moment, his signature on government documents consists of a series of looping swirls.

But Obama joked that he ordered Lew to make sure that least one letter of his name can be recognized.

The 57-year-old Lew has engaged in contentious tax and spending negotiations with Obama's Republican opponents in Congress. If confirmed by the Senate, Lew will face immediate contentious negotiations with Congress over raising the country's $16.4 trillion borrowing limit and spending cuts set to take effect in March.