It's not his lack of Washington experience.
Donald Trump’s pick of his campaign’s finance chairman as Secretary of the U.S. Treasury will make Steve Mnuchin, if confirmed by the Senate, the 77th white man whose oil portrait will someday grace the marble halls of 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue. Unfortunately, Mnuchin’s appointment doesn’t reflect two ways the world has changed. But it’s not too late to account for them at the top of the Treasury.
First, today’s Treasury Secretaries no longer merely run the U.S. economy. When I worked as a spokesperson for the Treasury during the most harrowing days of Europe’s sovereign debt crisis, then-Secretary Tim Geithner joked that we doubled as the European Finance Ministry (a non-existent institution sorely needed by our largest trading partner). When Europe’s economy began burning, it was Geithner who quietly passed the Europeans blueprints for how to squelch the flames—replete with helpful diagrams. He repeatedly explained the logic of markets to his counterparts, many of whom ran economies that had never encountered such a crisis and were dangerously set on worsening the damage by punishing the profligate. When Europeans couldn’t say certain things to each other, he passed messages. Looking back, I can’t find a single European solution that Geithner didn’t first advocate.
But the former Secretary’s joke was too humble. In reality, the U.S. Treasury is the world’s finance ministry—as well as its economics professors and, occasionally, relationship counselors. Hundreds of U.S. Treasury technical staff work in finance ministries in every corner of the earth, advising on issues as basic as how to collect tax revenue and fight financial crimes. The U.S. economy is just too interconnected to let others screw up.
Unlike President Obama’s Treasury secretaries, Tim Geithner and Jack Lew, Mnuchin’s wholly private sector experience hasn’t quite prepared him for this level of international relations and firefighting. But he can—and must—overcome this gap by appointing a deputy with serious economic diplomacy experience.
Another way the world has changed is with the appointment of female finance ministers. More than 100 women have served as finance ministers of the world’s 195 nations since the year 2000. None have been in the U.S. This makes it especially important to ensure that brilliant, eminently qualified women are given proper consideration for economic posts.
Here’s hoping Mnuchin and Trump will use the appointment of Mnuchin’s Treasury deputies to round out his resume.
Kara Alaimo, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor of Public Relations at Hofstra University and author of “Pitch, Tweet, or Engage on the Street: How to Practice Global Public Relations and Strategic Communication.” She served as Spokesperson for International Affairs in the Treasury Department during the Obama administration.