Presidential advisor speaks on experience and economic policy
Courtney Becker | Tuesday, October 6, 2015
Abigail Wozniak, associate professor of economics, spoke about the fast-paced lifestyle of White House professionals, referencing her time serving as a senior economist for labor economics issues on President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) at DeBartolo Hall on Tuesday night.
The lecture was sponsored by the Notre Dame Economics Club and touched on how to be an economist in politics, as well as her experience serving on the CEA.
According to the Council of Economic Advisors webpage, the CEA, established by Congress in 1946, “is charged with offering the President objective economic advice on the formulation of both domestic and international economic policy.”
Wozniak said her job was giving the President unbiased economic advice, particularly in labor economics.
She elaborated on some of the daily tasks she handled during her time on the CEA, in addition to the large analysis reports she and her team put together.
“I personally was involved in things that were very short term,” Wozniak said. “When the President gives the State of the Union Address, the press fact-checks everything that’s in the State of the Union Address. … Then we’d have to provide the evidence in support of why that statement was made, and that often has to happen super, super fast. Even though it’s the White House, they don’t have the luxury of saying, ‘I’ll get back to you in a week or three weeks when things calm down.’ The press gets really quick responses.”
Further highlighting the speed at which the White moves on a daily basis, Wozniak said, “If someone is going to go out and talk to the press or talk in public, we need to make sure everything they’re saying is correct because it really harms us when it’s not correct. We frequently will get requests like, ‘The Vice President is giving a speech later today and wanted to say something about the impact of women’s labor force participation on GDP.’ … That’s a very big question.
“You can imagine someone might spend a whole career working on the impact of women and growth, and there are tons of papers on that. We would work fast to condense those and maybe give some sort of realistic, somewhat defensible number for what that impact might be.”
Wozniak said because she and the other CEA members were not doing their own research, she has a newfound appreciation for the importance of research.
“This I think was also eye opening for the value of research, for kind of understanding how important research can be,” Wozniak said. “We would write reports, and we would make statements, and we would rely on having that research to back them up, having a citation, having someone who considered this. … Without the research, we would really have very little footing, and it made me realize how important that research is.”
Wozniak also said there’s a tension between doing quality academic research and government policy advising, and it can be difficult to do both.
“You kind of have to pick what you’re focusing on,” Wozniak said. “The reason for this is partly that they move with different speeds. … You have an event that happens, and that motivates a lot of policy, motivates people to want to do something. It will take research a while to catch up with that. Research is going to move slower than the desire to change something and help people.”
Wozniak said while politics did come into her job occasionally, she felt free from the burden of having to make any decisions and could simply make an informed recommendation from an economics standpoint.
“One of the things I really enjoyed about the job was it was my job to say what we thought as economists, and it was everyone else’s job to figure out what to do,” she said. “I didn’t have to make the hard decisions. … I felt very free, and I think that CEA in general is very free to make these kinds of recommendations.”
Wozniak said one of the biggest things she takes away from her time on the CEA is the importance of teamwork and a team environment, especially in this sort of setting.
“It really was pretty different from academia,” she said. “We had to really rely on everyone having their part of the project and really doing their part. There’s no way that any single person could really do an entire project all by themselves. We really had to be able to break that down and work as a group to finish that and really kind of depended on each other.”
One of the final lessons Wozniak said she learned during her time on the CEA was the government truly does care about making a positive difference in the lives of Americans.
“People do care,” Wozniak said. “They work hard, and they try hard. I didn’t meet a single person who I thought was not there for good reasons.”