President Barack Obama’s handy excuse for all sorts of goofs and missteps is that he’s too busy working on fixing the economy.  In order to do that, one might expect that Obama would concentrate on building his economic team at the Department of the Treasury, where most of those efforts would originate and get managed.  Instead, as noted earlier today, phones go unanswered at Treasury — and our allies and trading partners have begun complaining about the lack of effort in the White House.

Reports have floated around that “dozens” of positions remain unfilled at Treasury, most recently in the New York Times’ profile of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner:

Compounding the strain on the Treasury, almost all the top posts beneath Mr. Geithner are still vacant. Though he has hired about 50 senior advisers — about half the number he hopes to recruit — the White House has become so worried about potential tax problems and other issues in the backgrounds of candidates that it has nominated only a handful of people.

From that, we know that more than four dozen positions remain unfilled — positions that Geithner has to fill himself.  But what about positions that the White House has to appoint?  I researched that question this morning, and found the list of positions at Treasury that require White House appointment and Senate confirmation.  It’s quite a list:

  • Secretary
  • Deputy Secretary
  • Under Secretary — Domestic Finance
  • Under Secretary — International Affairs
  • Under Secretary — Terrorism and Financial Intelligence
  • Assistant Secretary — Economic Policy
  • Assistant Secretary — Financial Markets
  • Assistant Secretary (Deputy Under Secretary) — International Affairs
  • Assistant Secretary (Deputy Under Secretary) — Legislative Affairs
  • Assistant Secretary — Management and Chief Financial Officer
  • Assistant Secretary — Public Affairs/Director — Policy Planning
  • Assistant Secretary — Tax Policy
  • Chief Counsel — Internal Revenue Service/Assistant General Counsel for Tax
  • Commissioner — Internal Revenue (five-year terms of office)
  • General Counsel
  • Inspector General
  • Inspector General — Tax Administration
  • Treasurer — United States

The White House has responsibility for appointing these 18 positions.  Those appointments get handled by the Senate Finance Commitee, which after receiving the formal nominations, has to do background checks and other information gathering to prepare committee members for their hearings.  It takes some time to get a nomination from the White House to a confirmation vote, but the clock doesn’t start — it can’t start — until Obama makes each nomination.

How many of these positions has Obama filled with a formal nomination?  According to the White House website, this many:

  • Secretary – Tim Geithner

That’s it.  Just the one nomination, for what Barack Obama says is his greatest priority and gives as an excuse for his diplomatic incompetence.  And these are just the political appointments that require Senate confirmation.  It will take weeks to fill these positions even after the appointments get made, but Obama hasn’t even gotten to Step 1.

One of the basic tasks of any executive is staffing.  In fact. it’s one of the chief complaints Republicans have with their new RNC chair, Michael Steele, who canned the staff and has yet to replace them.  Obama has the responsibility to staff all of the positions in his administration, and especially where he keeps claiming his attention is placed.  Instead of making it a priority,, Obama has left Treasury bereft of senior leadership.  The failure to staff Treasury speaks volumes about his priorities —  and his competence.

Update: I wanted to make sure that people understood that Obama hasn’t nominated anyone for these positions.  The Finance Committee can’t process what they don’t get.    I tightened up the language to make that clear.