Staffing Headaches Hindering Treasury at Crucial Time

Geithner working "by himself" as Treasury Department works to fill key spots.

ByABC News
February 20, 2009, 4:51 PM

Feb. 24, 2009 -- "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.

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."