Economy gets top priority Clinton eyes high office of Economic Security Council

November 09, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- President-elect Bill Clinton probably will postpone the appointment of top Cabinet officers until early December, focusing instead on a plan to overhaul the government's uppermost echelon to give economic affairs unprecedented status, according to his advisers.

The plan, which officials of his transition team described yesterday as Mr. Clinton's priority, would create a new Economic Security Council in the White House whose power and authority would parallel that of the existing National Security Council.

The realignment, which would give a Clinton deputy the power to coordinate policies and actions of a broad range of federal agencies, could become the most far-reaching revision in government structure since Congress established the National Security Council 44 years ago.

In television interviews, both Warren Christopher, director of the group planning Mr. Clinton's shift to power, and Vernon Jordan, its chairman, cautioned that the exact role of the new panel and its day-to-day director, an economic security adviser, remain to be determined.

Mr. Clinton had expressed general support for such an arrangement on various occasions during his campaign. But his advisers' comments made clear for the first time how central the new structure will be in shaping the administration's plans.

Mr. Christopher, a former deputy secretary of state, said that the shift would permit the Clinton White House to elevate economic affairs to "a considerably higher priority" than had been possible under a White House structure forged at the height of the Cold War.

Other aides said that the planned reconfiguration reflects lessons learned from a Bush administration whose foreign-affairs strengths were never matched in the conduct of economic matters, where policy was crippled by a lack of coordination.

The planned new blueprint for the White House and of a separate effort to bring business leaders to Little Rock to meet with Mr. Clinton reaffirmed signs that he intends to act with deliberation before naming officials who will lead his administration.

Mr. Clinton himself spent the day reading, exercising and otherwise trying to recover from the exhaustion of the campaign. In an informal chat with reporters, he declined to comment about the transition except to say that he is "going to work hard but not rush decisions."

However, both Mr. Christopher and Mr. Jordan said that the priority given to restructuring the White House staff makes it unlikely that Mr. Clinton will name anyone to top Cabinet postions before Dec. 1. They said that the planned business summit, to be convened in the meantime, is intended to help the president-elect in conducting an "audit" of the nation's economic condition.

The Clinton advisers said that no date had yet been set for the planned meeting but they indicated that it is likely to include not only business leaders and economists but perhaps members of Congress.

Among the campaign aides expected to assume important posts on the team are George Stephanopoulos, David Wilhelm and Eli Segal, a troika that played key roles in orchestrating the Clinton election victory.

Apart from working to elevate economic affairs to new status within the new administration, the officials said that an urgent short-term priority would be to help find ways to reduce the overall size of the White House staff by 25 percent, as Mr. Clinton pledged during the course of the campaign.

Those tasks may prove contradictory, however, if the new Economic Security Council is modeled after the National Security Council, whose authority is derived in part from the expertise of its large and accomplished White House-based staff.

Although neither Mr. Christopher nor Mr. Jordan was willing to say exactly what role the new council would perform, other aides said that it would almost certainly include secretaries of the departments of Treasury, Commerce, and Labor; the director of the Office of Management and Budget; the U.S. Trade Representative; and the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.

After a weekend of jogging, golf and going to a Tom Selleck movie, "Mr. Baseball," with his family, Mr. Clinton was conferring today with Mr. Christopher, and meeting with his Arkansas Cabinet.

Al Gore, the vice president-elect, was flying in for talks with Mr. Clinton after a weekend at his home in Tennessee.

With 72 days remaining before he takes power, Mr. Clinton tried to dampen expectations of swiftly filling senior jobs.

"I'm going to work hard but not rush decisions," Mr. Clinton said yesterday. "I was so exhausted after the election I couldn't read very much for two days."

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