Obama’s Team as Experienced Yet Fresh,Updated

November 27, 2008

27nat-obamaCHICAGO — President-elect Barack Obama on Wednesday defended his decision to select veterans of the Clinton administration for positions in the West Wing, in his cabinet and across the administration, saying Americans would be rightly “troubled” if he overlooked experience simply to create the perception of change.

Mr. Obama, who built his presidential campaign around a message of bringing a fresh outlook to the problems of Washington, said he would be negligent if he did not recruit people who had advised previous presidents. He grew animated as he sought to dismiss suggestions “that there’s a recycling of people who were in the Clinton administration.”

“What we are going to do is combine experience with fresh thinking,” Mr. Obama said, speaking at his third news conference here in three days. “But understand where the vision for change comes from first and foremost: It comes from me.”

The comments from Mr. Obama offered the clearest window yet on how he is building his team, particularly on the economy and national security. Although he has formally announced only one cabinet post, he is poised to reveal several other choices soon, nearly all of whom have ties to the Bush or Clinton administration.

“I suspect that you would be troubled and the American people would be troubled,” Mr. Obama told a reporter, “if I selected a Treasury secretary or a chairman of the National Economic Council at one of the most critical economic times in our history who had no experience in government whatsoever.”

To amplify his point, Mr. Obama announced that he was forming the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, a panel of experts from business, labor, academia and other sectors. He said he was modeling the group after a foreign intelligence advisory board created by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, where those outside of government could be “candid and unsparing in their assessment.”

He named Paul A. Volcker, 81, a former chairman of the Federal Reserve, to lead the economic advisory board.

“Paul has served under both Republicans and Democrats and is held in the highest esteem for his sound and independent judgment,” Mr. Obama said, as the 6-foot-7 Mr. Volcker towered nearby. “He pulls no punches. He seems to be fairly opinionated.”

Mr. Volcker, who Democrats said was considered by Mr. Obama for the position of Treasury secretary, became chairman of the Federal Reserve in August 1979 as President Jimmy Carter was fighting to rein in the inflation caused by the oil shocks of 1973 and 1978. Mr. Volcker, who led the Fed until 1987, often used tactics that were unpopular, like rapid increases in interest rates. Criticized at the time as having caused a recession, he was later praised for the effectiveness of his efforts.

“Paul Volcker hasn’t been in Washington for quite some time,” Mr. Obama said, “and that’s part of the reason he can provide a fresh perspective.”

Austan Goolsbee, a University of Chicago economist who was a leading economic adviser to the Obama presidential campaign, will be the top staff member of the advisory board.

Mr. Obama said he would appoint other members to the board before taking office on Jan. 20. The back-to-back-to-back appearances by Mr. Obama this week were intended to demonstrate that he is striving to tackle the economic crisis that has shaken financial markets and rattled consumer confidence. Even though the Dow Jones industrials climbed 247 points on Wednesday, the fourth straight rise, he conceded that the holiday shopping season would be a challenge for families and retailers.

“What we don’t want to do is get caught up in a spiral where people pull back from the economy, businesses then pull back, jobs are reduced,” Mr. Obama said, adding that he hoped a recovery plan to create new jobs and save existing ones would be in place when he took office. With confidence, he declared, “Help is on the way.”

In a brief question-and-answer session, Mr. Obama said his call for new ways of thinking on the economy should not be interpreted as a reflection of frustration and disappointment with the Bush administration’s recent economic-recovery efforts. He signaled his support for the latest $800 billion government bailout plan, which is intended to provide new lending for consumers as well as to push down home mortgage rates.

Before taking a holiday break from staff and cabinet announcements, Mr. Obama and his family arrived at St. Columbanus Catholic Parish on the South Side of Chicago. They handed out white plastic bags filled with chicken, potatoes, apples and loaves of bread.

“The number of people who are getting food this year is up 33 percent,” Mr. Obama said after shaking hands with food bank volunteers. “These folks were already, oftentimes, having a tough time, and it gets tougher now.”

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