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Obama Said to Consider Yale’s Levin for Top Economic Posts

Richard Levin, president of Yale University
Richard Levin, president of Yale University. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

President Barack Obama is considering Yale University President Richard Levin for a top economic post, possibly head of the National Economic Council or chairman of his outside advisory board, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Obama interviewed Levin last week at the White House. He is among the top three candidates to replace NEC Director Lawrence Summers, who plans to return to Harvard University at the end of the year, according to an administration official. Obama also is considering Roger Altman, the founder of Evercore Partners Inc., and Gene Sperling, an adviser to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

Levin has been to the White House to discuss several possible positions, including NEC director, according to two administration officials. No decisions have been made, either by Levin or Obama, one of the officials said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions were private.

The president likely won’t choose a new chief economic adviser before Summers is scheduled to depart.

“I’m not sure that’s going to get done by the end of the year,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said yesterday at a briefing.

Levin, 63, whose 17 years leading Yale make him the Ivy League’s longest-serving president, is an industrial economist. He received his Ph.D. from the school in 1974. Under Levin, Yale has doubled the number of undergraduate applications, and its endowment has increased fivefold to $16.3 billion.

Advisory Board

Levin also is a potential candidate to lead the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, whose current chairman is former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker.

The panel was established by executive order at the start of Obama’s administration and its authorization is set to expire in February. Volcker hasn’t indicated to the White House that he has plans to change his role, and Obama hasn’t discussed with him the future of the board during the next two years of the president’s term, one of the administration officials said.

A spokesman for Volcker, Anthony Dowd, declined to comment.

Yale spokesman Thomas Conroy also declined to comment. Levin told the Yale Daily News on Dec. 6 that “I love my job, and I’m not looking to leave.”

University Connection

Taking the job as chairman of the advisory board, known as PERAB, wouldn’t require Levin to relinquish Yale’s presidency. If he is picked to succeed Summers, Levin would have to leave his post at the university in New Haven, Connecticut, where he was once chairman of the economics department. Summers was on a two-year leave from Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Harvard while serving in the administration.

Obama interviewed Altman, a former deputy Treasury secretary, on Nov. 16, and Altman returned to the White House Dec. 3 for meetings with White House aides. Sperling is frequently at the White House in his capacity as counselor to Geithner.

Obama’s economic team is undergoing changes as the administration is trying to accelerate the economy’s recovery from the worst recession since the 1930s and following midterm elections in which the Democratic Party lost control of the House and its Senate majority was narrowed.

Summers addressed the challenges the economy faces in a speech yesterday at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington.

“While the economy may be out of the intensive care unit, the patient now faces the long road of not just recovering from previous affliction, but beginning to address chronic ailments,” Summers told his audience, citing the need to boost U.S. output and narrow the deficit.

Tax Overhaul

Obama has vowed to use the next year to begin a debate over revamping the tax code as part of an effort to trim the federal budget deficit, which hit $1.294 trillion in the last fiscal year.

“The idea is simplifying the system, hopefully lowering rates, broadening the base,” Obama said in an interview last week with NPR. “We’ve got to start that conversation next year.”

The NEC post or the advisory panel chairmanship would give Levin broad influence over administration policy.

In January 2009, Levin said in a Bloomberg Radio interview that Obama’s stimulus package “may not be enough” to revive the economy.

He has also said that observing how successful companies function taught him to think like a chief executive when it comes to hiring and promoting in academia.

Former Yale provosts groomed by Levin head three of the world’s top 10 universities: MIT, the University of Oxford and University of Cambridge. Former Levin administrators also run Wellesley College, Duke University and Carnegie Mellon University.

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