It’s not Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. Not Obama’s senior adviser and close friend Valerie Jarrett. Not Cecilia Munoz,who is overseeing White House efforts on immigration reform,nor Lisa Monaco,who advises Obama on homeland security and counter terrorism.
The best-paid person of the 460 people who work at the White House is Seth Wheeler,a senior adviser at the National Economic Council,who is crafting Obama’s strategy on housing finance.
One of the newest appointees,Wheeler earns $225,000,according to the annual White House report on its $37.9 million payroll released on Friday. Wheeler has been detailed to the role from the Federal Reserve where the pay scale is higher,a White House official explained.
It also means he earns more than his boss,Gene Sperling,the director of the National Economic Council,who earns the White House limit of $172,200. At the Fed,Wheeler was chief of staff for the Office of Financial Stability Policy and Research.
He is an ex-Morgan Stanley banker who worked for former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson during the Bush Administration,and was a key architect with the Obama administration’s mortgage modification program,helping craft the signature housing aid program known as the Home Affordable Modification Program.
“His pay reflects the anomaly of the Fed pay scale,” said Phillip Swagel,who served in the Treasury Department under President George W. Bush. “It is noteworthy that the NEC is pretty political so it’s fascinating that they have a Fed employee in a political position,” Swagel said.
Federal employees who work for banking regulators,including the Fed,have higher pay scales than employees of other federal departments,said Julia Gordon,director of housing finance and policy at the Center for American Progress,a liberal think tank.
“I’m sure if he went back to Morgan Stanley,he’d be making 10 times that,” Gordon said. Wheeler replaces Jim Parrott,who had been detailed to the White House from the Department of Housing and Urban Development,and earned $144,385 last year. Parrott left the White House in January,and recently joined the Urban Institute.
Wheeler’s salary approaches that of Vice President Joe Biden,who this year is poised to earn $230,700. Obama’s salary is $400,000.
HOUSING SYSTEM ‘IN SHAMBLES’
The housing advisor position has been held by four different people during the Obama administration,punctuated by lengthy vacancies between advisers,said Gordon,who hopes the White House now begins to takes a more active role on the issue.
“Our housing system is still in shambles,” Gordon said. “Just because people hear that prices are going back up doesn’t mean we’ve fixed anything. A lot of the underlying problems are still there.”
One of the key issues is reforms for mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac,which were seized by the government in 2008 as the housing crisis threatened their solvency. The companies own or guarantee half of all U.S. mortgages and have been propped up with $187.5 billion in taxpayer funds.
Democrats and Republicans want to reduce the government’s role and put more of the risk of lending onto the private sector,but they disagree on how far to go.