Biden Considers Ferguson, Deese to Lead His Economic Council

President-elect Joe Biden is considering Roger Ferguson, a former Federal Reserve vice chair, and Brian Deese, an executive at BlackRock Inc., to be his top White House economic adviser, according to people familiar with the matter.

If selected, Ferguson, now the chief executive of TIAA, would become the first African-American in the role of director of the National Economic Council, a prime position to guide the president on the direction of policy making.

Deese, who was hired by BlackRock in 2017 to oversee its sustainable investment strategies, was a senior adviser to President Barack Obama on climate, conservation and energy.

Progressive groups might be critical of Deese’s selection because of the lack of racial diversity on Biden’s economic team, and his connection to Wall Street. Both Deese and Janet Yellen, his choice for Treasury secretary, are White. But Deese’s supporters point to his championing of sustainability in the private sector.

Representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, the most senior Black lawmaker in Congress, criticized Biden for failing to name African-Americans to top positions. In an interview with Juan Williams for his column in The Hill, Clyburn, whose support of Biden was crucial in his march to the nomination, indicated he was disappointed the president-elect had named “one Black woman so far” to a senior position -- Linda Thomas-Greenfield as United Nations ambassador.

“I want to see where the process leads to, what it produces,” Clyburn added. “But so far it’s not good.”

Some on the left are not keen on either Deese or Ferguson, who’s on the board of Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent. “How to deal with big tech is one of the existential issues facing Biden’s administration,” said Jeff Hauser, who runs the Revolving Door Project, an organization in Washington dedicated to keeping corporate executives out of government.

“It’s Larry Fink’s world, and progressives are unfortunately still living in it,” added Hauser, referring to BlackRock’s CEO. “I’m disappointed.”

The Biden transition declined to comment on Wednesday night. The people who discussed the two candidates did so on condition of anonymity because no decision has been made.

The economic post is currently held in the Trump administration by Larry Kudlow. CNBC reported earlier that Ferguson was under consideration. Politico reported earlier on Deese being a candidate.

Different Expertise

Ferguson and Deese would arrive with different types of expertise, coming from two divergent money managers. TIAA has its roots in pensions for educators, with more than a century of history. BlackRock, little more than three decades old, is a giant in asset management and a key force in the shift to low-fee, index-based investing. Its size and web of business ties has drawn criticism from both the right and left in recent years.

While Ferguson, 69, led the entire TIAA operation, Deese zeroed in on sustainability at BlackRock -- a topic that’s gaining increasing momentum in its industry.

Ferguson was vice chairman of the Fed’s Board of Governors from 1999 to 2006, the first Black person to hold that post. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, then Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan was overseas and deputized Ferguson to carry out what was essentially the central bank’s war plan for market crises.

He has spent about 12 years as the chief executive of TIAA, arriving there from the reinsurance company Swiss Re AG, where he headed financial services. He steered TIAA through the 2008 financial crisis. The organization announced last week that he would retire in March.

TIAA oversaw $1.2 trillion as of Sept. 30. That’s up from about $435 billion when Ferguson was chosen to run it in 2008. TIAA announced last week that he would retire at the end of March.

A native of the District of Columbia, and the son of a public school teacher and a U.S. Army cartographer, he has said that Andrew Brimmer, the first Black governor of the Fed, inspired his career. Brimmer was nominated by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966, when Ferguson was a teenager.

Deese worked on Obama’s 2008 campaign and joined his administration in 2009, according to a White House biography. He was part of the task force charged with restructuring the automobile industry and later became deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Biden is assembling his cabinet even as President Donald Trump refuses to concede the Nov. 3 election. On Tuesday, the president-elect announced nominees for several national-security posts including secretary of state. Next week, he plans to introduce members of his economic team, likely including Yellen, a former Fed chair, as his nominee for Treasury secretary.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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