Yellen agenda bogs down with key posts unfilled
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has one of the biggest to-do lists in Washington: usher in a global tax overhaul, press Wall Street on climate change and distribute billions of dollars in Covid-relief funds.
Yet her efforts are hampered by vacancies in the Treasury’s top ranks, where only three officials including herself have been confirmed by the Senate. Of the 17 key remaining jobs that require confirmation, 10 have nominees stuck in the Democratic controlled-senate, while the rest have not been named.
Priorities such as a top-tobottom review of the agency’s financial sanctions and work to bolster resilience of the US Treasuries market — which nearly seized up in March 2020 amid a desperate global rush for cash dollars — have progressed far slower than expected, according to people familiar with the matter.
More prosaically, because President Joe Biden hasn’t yet nominated a treasurer, rules dictate that Yellen’s signature can’t appear on US banknotes. Her predecessor, Steven Mnuchin, unveiled his autograph on the buck within nine months in office.
The staffing shortfall has left Yellen’s team frustrated with overstretched portfolios, hurting morale as work to develop and enact policies becomes more difficult, according to the people, who asked not to be identified discussing personnel matters.
The vacancies leave the department at risk of losing influence across the administration — such as in the government-wide review of China policy that’s been underway for months.
“You lose an advocate and a driver of policy when you don’t have senior staff read-in on the large and small details,” said Brian O’toole, who previously worked in the Treasury’s sanctions unit. While those filling in on an acting or informal capacity may be wellqualified, “their voice in meetings and the inter-agency process where policy making and implementation happens is less powerful because they aren’t a confirmed official,” he said.
Part of the trouble: top Senate Republicans are threatening to hold five Treasury nominations indefinitely, over demands for the White House to undo a deal allowing the completion of the Germanyrussia Nord Stream 2 project. Lawmakers from both parties have opposed the natural gas pipeline between Russia and the Nato ally, with some arguing it would give Moscow too much leverage over European national security.
Despite having a Democraticcontrolled Senate, Biden’s nominees are still struggling to win confirmation.
Yellen and her deputy, Wally Adeyemo, have held a handful of phone calls with Republicans who’ve objected to Nord Stream 2 decisions, according to one person familiar with the matter. The agency has organized briefings — some of them classified — for GOP Senators Ted Cruz and Pat Toomey to share analysis behind the deal, the person said. “It is essential that the Senate confirm these highly qualified nominees,” Treasury spokeswoman Lily Adams said.