Grief-stricken that after spending $7.66 trillion to get us going again our economy is shrinking and our unemployment is growing, I turned this week to a last thread of hope, the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.
Only to find out the President decided Thursday to break up that old jobs council of mine. Well, no reporter worth his salt is going to sit back with his feet propped up on his desk smoking his meerschaum and not ask why.
In the late morning, I put in a call to the media departments for the two Texas members of the council, Gary Kelly, chairman and CEO of Southwest Airlines, and Matthew Rose, CEO for BNSF Railway, who doesn’t live too far from me here in Austin.
And then I set about to do some digging. As anyone who cares about our economy recalls, President Obama issued an executive order in January of 2011 calling on some of our most powerful business people to:
“continue to strengthen the Nation's economy and ensure the competitiveness of the United States and to create jobs, opportunity, and prosperity for the American people by ensuring the availability of non partisan advice to the President from participants in and experts on the economy...”
While the makeup of the committee might have been a little too Ivy League and Wall Street for a Texan’s taste, you couldn’t argue with council’s pedigree. And they got right to work, or certainly said they were going to get right to work.
Groups of council members decamped for “listening and action sessions” around the country. Council members including Kelly and Rose told an audience at Southern Methodist University on Sept. 1, 2011, that if the government was going to spend a lot of money to get the economy going again, you could do worse than to invest in infrastructure.
By the end of the year, the council had kicked out a swell report Road Map to Renewal, although its recommendations for the future - fostering innovation, preparing the workforce for a global economy, investing in alternative energy and infrastructure - sounded a lot like talking points for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
The council met only four times, the last time on Jan. 17, 2012, at the White House. There is no 2012 report on the website, and one wonders with the dissolution of the council whether there will be one.
Seems like more than a few people wondered why, exactly, the President formed the jobs council in the first place.
To calculate the impact the council had on the economy, the Marketplace website asked economist Gary Burtless at the Brookings Institution what he thought of the President’s decision to shut down it down. "Well, as probably more than one economist would remark to you,” Burtless said, “I didn't even remember we had one.”
By this time, much of the afternoon had flown by without my knowing what the Texas delegation to the council thought of their work. I looked on the Internet in vain for comments from either of them.
Deadline fast approached, when Chris Mainz, a spokesman for Kelly, replied by e-mail to my request.
“Thanks for reaching out, “ Mainz wrote. “Gary is out of pocket, and I won’t be able to get you a comment for your deadline. We don’t have a canned one to send. Sorry we can’t help out with this story.”
We can only hope Kelly can’t be reached because he’s in a garret somewhere finishing up his part of Road Map to Renewal: 2012.
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.
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Photo of the White House by flickr user DuckofD3ath, used via a Creative Commons license.