Obama held a press conference in Chicago to announce that Carter-era economic guru Paul Volker would head the panel and that it would help President-elect Obama create jobs and bring stability to the ailing financial system.
Now, five months into his administration, President Obama will convene with his economic panel for the first time. This meeting begs the question: what has the Economic Recovery Advisory Board been doing for the past six months, while the country has been struggling through the worst recession since the depression?
“Members have been gathering information, conducting research, and analyzing relevant issues in preparation for the next full board meeting,” spokesperson Jen Psaki told Politico back in March when they wanted to know what the board was doing. “Individual members are in regular contact with officials at Treasury, the Federal Reserve, and the White House….The President has also made calls to individuals.”
According to Politico seven members of the economic panel, including Volcker, former Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman William Donaldson, Yale investment chief David Swensen, and developer and Hyatt Hotel heir Penny Pritzker met with President Obama in a closed-door session at the White House. But that meeting violates the 1972 Federal Advisory Committee Act, which stipulates that any meetings with an official White House advisory board must be announced or made public.
“If the president wants to talk to his advisory committee, it seems to me he ought to do that in the open,” Sidney Shapiro, a law professor at Wake Forest University told Politico. “There ought to be accountability for private people who address the government. It seems to me it becomes even more important, not less important, when you have a presidential advisory committee.”
Now Obama has gotten himself in a bit of a catch-22 in which he either hasn’t been using all the tools at his disposal, by not convening with the recovery board, or that he has been meeting with the board and just not announcing it, which is anathema to his transparency mantra.
“I created this board to enlist voices to come from beyond the Washington echo chamber, to ensure that no stone is unturned as we work to put people back to work and get our economy moving,” the president said in February when he signed the executive order that officially created the board. “We will meet regularly so that I can hear different ideas and sharpen my own and seek counsel that is candid and informed by the wider world.”
Either they have been meeting in secret, or they haven’t been meeting at all. Either way questions should be answered when Volker and the gang visit the White House on official terms.