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Obama to Pick Sperling as Economic Council Director

Gene Sperling, Counselor to U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geit
Gene Sperling, counselor to U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, arrives for a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama and other business leaders at Blair House in Washington, D.C. Photographer: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg

President Barack Obama today will name Gene Sperling, a counselor to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, as director of the National Economic Council, the administration said in a statement.

During a visit to a business in Maryland, Obama also will name economic aide Jason Furman as Sperling’s principal deputy and nominate University of Maryland Professor Katharine Abraham to the Council of Economic Advisers, the statement said.

The president announced yesterday that William Daley, a JPMorgan Chase & Co. executive and former Commerce secretary, will be his new chief of staff -- part of a series of changes he is making to the White House staff as he prepares for his 2012 re-election campaign and seeks additional measures to spur economic growth and job creation.

The Labor Department reported today that employers added 103,000 workers to their payrolls in December, less than the 150,000 that analysts expected in a Bloomberg survey. The unemployment rate fell to 9.4 percent in December as more people found work or dropped out of the labor force.

The decline in the jobless rate is “a signal that we are making good progress,” Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ in New York, said in an e-mail to clients. “This suggests it will not be a long hard slog to put people who lost their jobs in this great recession back to work.”

Economic Focus

Obama has said he would keep his administration focused on the economy amid signs the recovery is strengthening. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 13 percent in 2010 after a 23 percent jump in 2009, making it the biggest two-year advance since the Internet-bubble rally of 1998 and 1999.

Still, it will take years to make up for the 8.4 million jobs lost during the 18-month recession that ended in June 2009. For all of 2010, unemployment rate averaged 9.6 percent, the highest since 1983 and up from 9.3 percent a year earlier.

Sperling, 52, is returning to the post he held from 1997 to 2001 under President Bill Clinton. He succeeds Lawrence Summers, who was NEC director for the first two years of Obama’s presidency and left last month to return to Harvard University.

The National Economic Council coordinates administration policy and analyzes the effect of legislation. The director’s job is a key post as the White House tries to get its economic agenda through a Congress where Republicans now control the House of Representatives and Democrats have a narrower majority in the Senate.

Deputy’s Role

Furman, who is now one of the council’s two deputy directors, will take on a greater role and more responsibility as principal deputy director, an administration official said.

Abraham is filling the seat on the Council of Economic Advisers previously held by Austan Goolsbee, who was elevated to chairman of the CEA in September 2010 after the departure of Christina Romer. Her nomination requires Senate confirmation.

In addition, Obama is nominating Heather Higginbottom, the deputy director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, as the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget. She also must be confirmed by the Senate.

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