Monday, Feb 16, 2009
President Barack Obama opted against naming a “car czar,” instead asking Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and White House economic adviser Lawrence Summers to head a task force on revamping the U.S. auto industry, according to people familiar with the decision.
Ron Bloom, a United Steelworkers union adviser and former Lazard Ltd. vice president, will join administration members on the team, according to the two people, who declined to be named because the announcement hasn’t been made publicly.
The president was under pressure to say who would handle the issue before tomorrow, when General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC must give progress reports on plans to restructure as a condition of $17.4 billion in U.S. Treasury loans. The task force puts an end to reports Obama would recruit a well-known figure from outside to serve as the so-called car czar, an approach that had some support in the auto industry.
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“There needs to be a trail boss here,” said Andrew Gross, chairman and chief executive officer of Automotive Consulting Services LLC in Clackamas, Oregon, in a phone interview today. “Typically when you have a committee set up it provides cover. Everyone’s responsible, but no one’s accountable.”
Geithner has “got his hands full” trying to rescue the banking industry, Gross said.
After Congress failed to approve a bailout for the automakers, former President George W. Bush’s administration authorized loans Dec. 19. That effectively made the Treasury secretary the car czar, with responsibility for making sure the companies meet deadlines and authority to revoke the loans.