We Could Use More Public Servants Like Jack Lew

Jan 16, 2013Bo Cutter

Despite criticism from the left, Jack Lew has a commitment to public service and a deep understanding of public finance.

I've already been fairly widely quoted in support of Jack Lew's nomination as Treasury Secretary. And for full disclosure, I supported his appointment as head of OMB and Chief of Staff of the White House, and he's been a longtime friend.

I don't much care what the hard right thinks about Jack Lew, but it is irritating to see the left instantly take up again its incessant twin rituals of circular firing squads and endogenous cannibalism -- dining on one's allies. Thus, Jack Lew is a dangerous budget hawk, responsible for Clinton administration financial regulatory mistakes, a "gofer" rather than an idea man, and nowhere near as good as the people on some other list someone can dredge up.

So just to restate the points, Jack Lew has spent essentially his entire career in public life -- on the Hill, in the executive branch, and with universities --  though he did spend about 18 months with Citigroup, which I suspect he'll never live down. He has succeeded in every role he has taken on. He is not spectacular -- from my fairly close observations, as they used to say in my high school, he brings his lunch and does an all-day job. He believes deeply in the value of the public sector, and as deeply in the importance of a high-quality public sector, in the importance of getting it right. 

He hasn't spent a lifetime in the financial private sector -- I'm personally delighted President Obama did not go that way -- but there is no one who knows and understands the complexities of our public finance better than Jack Lew. People always dismiss that as a green eye shade, low order kind of quality. Understanding budgets and public finance is for people who wear breast pocket pen protectors, not for the higher order idea men and women.  

But this is a very good nomination, and the odds are high that Jack Lew will be a very good Treasury Secretary. Much more importantly, Jack Lew is the kind of person we all would like to see in public life. 

Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Bo Cutter is formerly a managing partner of Warburg Pincus, a major global private equity firm. Recently, he served as the leader of President Obama’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) transition team. He has also served in senior roles in the White Houses of two Democratic Presidents.

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