Back in the D.C. Spotlight: Larry Summers

President-elect Obama is looking back to the future for the leadership team he's appointing to run the government's response to the financial crisis.

Larry Summers has been tapped to head the National Economic Council -- a group inside the White House that advises the president on matters of domestic and international economic policy. Summers was President Clinton's last Treasury secretary and is widely respected for his brilliance as an economist and leadership during economic crises.

"As one of the great economic minds of our time, Larry has earned a global reputation for being able to cut to the heart of the most complex and novel policy challenges," Obama said. "With respect to both our current financial crisis, and other pressing economic issues of our time, his thinking, writing and speaking have set the terms of the debate. I am glad he will be by my side, playing the critical role of coordinating my Administration's economic policy in the White House -- and I will rely heavily on his advice as we navigate the uncharted waters of this economic crisis."

Summers' economic credentials are sterling -- an undergraduate degree from MIT and a doctoral degree in economics from Harvard. He has written influential academic papers, became one of the youngest tenured professors in Harvard's history at the age of 28 and served as chief economist of the World Bank. He even worked as an economic adviser in the Reagan administration.

"Larry Summers embodies a rare combination as one of the most respected scholars and one of the most influential public servants of his generation," Robert Stone, chairman of the Harvard presidential search committee, said in 2001.

His time at Treasury was marked by dramatic economic expansion, federal budget surpluses and effective government responses to the 1997 Asian and 1998 Russian financial crises. Summers is widely recognized as being an effective leader during his nine-year stint in various roles at the Treasury Department.

While Summers, 53, was widely rumored to be Obama's pick for the job of Treasury secretary, he comes with some baggage that hurt his chances for that top spot. That job went to Timothy Geithner, the president of the New York Federal Reserve.

It has also been reported that Obama will pick Summers as a possible successor to Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, whose term expires in January 2010.

After leaving Treasury in 2001, Summers became the president of Harvard. His tenure there was marked by a series of controversies.

The most damning was when he said basic genetic differences between the sexes may be one reason that fewer women succeed in math and science careers.

"Summers' suggestion that women are inferior to men in their ability to excel at math and science is more than an example of personal sexism," Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization of Women, said at the time. "It is a clue to why women have not been more fully accepted and integrated into the tenured faculty at Harvard since he has been president."

Controversies Surrounding Summers

Summers resigned the presidency of Harvard a year after making the controversial speech. Some who know him say making the speech was "stupid," but it doesn't reflect his true feelings.

"What I think upsets me about this is that taking that incident aside, his track record on women is amazing," said Sheryl Sandberg, Summers' chief of staff during his days at Treasury. She is now chief operating officer of Facebook.

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