One of President Clinton’s first steps after his election in 1992 was to create the National Economic Council to integrate and coordinate his administration’s economic policies. This new body was given a broad charter to address both international and domestic economic policy. Evidence of its importance was its location in the White House and the appointment of the assistant to the president for economic affairs as its head.
Now that the NEC has been in operation for four years and a second Clinton administration is about to begin, the time seems ripe for an assessment of the council’s usefulness and performance. Kenneth I. Juster and Simon Lazarus, who have served in Republican and Democratic administrations, undertook this evaluation for Brookings. They interviewed more than sixty senior officials from the Clinton administration and seven predecessor administrations, including two former presidents, in order to obtain a comparative perspective on how each occupant of the White House has established mechanisms for developing economic policy.
Juster and Lazarus conclude that the NEC has served President Clinton well, but that it is still a fragile experiment that needs further institutionalization. They offer several recommendations for its improvement, including that economics should be given a more consistent role in foreign policymaking and that the NEC should annually undertake a systematic process for setting strategic economic priorities.