Ex-Fed official, BlackRock exec in running to be economic panel chief

Macy's Christmas windows in New York City. US President-elect Joe Biden is said to be considering former Fed vice-chair Roger Ferguson and BlackRock executive Brian Deese to be his top White House economic adviser, according to people familiar with t
Macy's Christmas windows in New York City. US President-elect Joe Biden is said to be considering former Fed vice-chair Roger Ferguson and BlackRock executive Brian Deese to be his top White House economic adviser, according to people familiar with the matter. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON • US President-elect Joe Biden is considering Mr Roger Ferguson, a former Federal Reserve vice-chair, and Mr Brian Deese, an executive at BlackRock, to be his top White House economic adviser, according to people familiar with the matter.

If selected, Mr Ferguson, now the chief executive of TIAA, would become the first African-American in the role of director of the National Economic Council, a prime position to guide the president on the direction of policy making.

Mr Deese, who was hired by BlackRock in 2017 to oversee its sustainable investment strategies, was a senior adviser to president Barack Obama on climate, conservation and energy.

Some on the left are not keen on either Mr Deese or Mr Ferguson, who is on the board of Alphabet Inc, Google's parent.

"How to deal with big tech is one of the existential issues facing Biden's administration," said Mr Jeff Hauser, who runs the Revolving Door Project, an organisation in Washington dedicated to keeping corporate executives out of government. "It's Larry Fink's world, and progressives are unfortunately still living in it," added Mr Hauser, referring to BlackRock's CEO. "I'm disappointed."

The Biden transition declined to comment on Wednesday night. The people who discussed his consideration for the post did so on condition of anonymity.

The job is now held by Mr Larry Kudlow in the Trump administration.

Mr Ferguson and Mr Deese would arrive with different types of expertise, coming from two divergent money managers.

TIAA - Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America - has its roots in pensions for educators, with more than a century of history, while BlackRock, which is little more than 30 years old, is a giant in asset management and a key force in the shift to low-fee, index-based investing. Its size and web of business ties have drawn criticism from both the right and left.

While Mr Ferguson, 69, led the entire TIAA operation, Mr Deese, 42, zeroed in on sustainability at BlackRock - a topic that is gaining rising momentum in its industry.

Mr Ferguson was vice-chairman of the Fed's board of governors from 1999 to 2006, the first black person to hold that post.

After the Sept 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, then Fed chairman Alan Greenspan was overseas and deputised Mr Ferguson to carry out what was basically the central bank's war plan for market crises.

Mr Ferguson has spent about 12 years as the chief executive of TIAA, arriving there from the reinsurance company Swiss Re, where he headed its financial services. He also steered TIAA through the 2008 financial crisis.

The organisation oversaw US$1.2 trillion (S$1.61 trillion) as of Sept 30, including the retirement savings of many Americans. That figure is up from about US$435 billion when Mr Ferguson was chosen to run it in 2008.

The organisation announced last week that he would retire in March.

Mr Ferguson, a native of the District of Columbia, is the son of a public school teacher and a US Army cartographer.

He has said that Mr Andrew Brimmer, the first black governor of the Fed, inspired his career. Mr Brimmer was nominated by president Lyndon Johnson in 1966, when Mr Ferguson was a teenager.

Mr Deese worked on Mr Obama's 2008 campaign and joined his administration in 2009, according to a White House biography. He was part of the task force charged with restructuring the automobile industry and later became deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 27, 2020, with the headline 'Ex-Fed official, BlackRock exec in running to be economic panel chief'. Print Edition | Subscribe