Staffing Headaches Hindering Treasury at Crucial Time

"We begin this year and this administration in the midst of an unprecedented crisis that calls for unprecedented action," President Barack Obama said just days after taking office.

Despite the urgent call to action, the agency leading the way is understaffed and overburdened as it confronts the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression, government analysts say. The Treasury Department still has numerous job vacancies that need to be filled, leaving Secretary Tim Geithner working on his own, according to Darrell West, head of government studies at Brookings Institution.

"Essentially Geithner is sitting over there by himself and does not have a staff," West said.

In the past two weeks, Geithner has moved quickly, outlining a revised approach to stabilize the financial sector and a program to assist struggling homeowners from losing their homes to foreclosure. However, critics say Treasury has not moved quickly enough to fill key positions -- such as deputy secretary, various undersecretary posts, and general counsel -- which may have contributed to a lack of details in Treasury's plans, which in turn caused a dive in the stock market.

"If the secretary had a full staff he would've been in a stronger position to work out the details, so I'm sure that has been part of the problem," West said.

On Feb. 10, when Geithner announced a plan to use up to $1 trillion to shore up the financial sector, the Dow fell 381 points. Seven days later, when President Obama signed the $787 billion economic stimulus package into law in Denver, the Dow dropped 297 points. On Monday, the Dow closed at its lowest point since May 1997.

Some analysts believe Geithner is suffering from the lack of a complete staff at his disposal.

"It's an overwhelming job even if you have a full staff, and that's certainly not yet the case," said Rob Nichols, president of the Financial Services Forum.

Short-Staffed at a Challenging Time

Nichols, a former Treasury spokesman, estimated that right now Geithner "probably has 10 or 20 percent of the political appointees around him that he ultimately will have."

"Treasury is not moving fast enough," West said. "Given all of the enormous economic and banking challenges that we face, we really need a full team on the field."

The Treasury Department said they have already completed a "significant" amount of work in a very short timeframe.

"The Obama Administration has taken an unprecedented level of action toward economic recovery in a very short period of time," a Treasury spokesperson said in a statement. "From passing a recovery bill to crafting a framework for financial stability and mortgage affordability, there's a significant amount of work being done by both a group of appointees and a significant army of talented career professionals at Treasury."

Some analysts agree, but warn that bigger challenges lie ahead as the department's workload increases.

"So far, they are doing a good job keeping up," said Scott Talbott, Senior Vice Prsident of Government Affairs at the Financial Services Roundtable. "The challenge will come as they flesh out the details of the second $350 billion and begin implementing the housing proposal."

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