Replace the Jobs Council with a Competitiveness Council

Yesterday, President Obama let the authorization for the Jobs Council expire, and he immediately took flack about it. Critics complained that this showed a lack of interest in the unemployment problem.
I’m not that upset about the end of the Jobs Council. If we want to simply create jobs, that’s easy: hire a bunch of people to dig ditches and then hire a bunch more to fill those ditches in. If we want to create good jobs (well paying jobs) that are economically sustainable, well that is a more difficult. Creating good jobs requires a focus on improving American competitiveness.
Yes, I know that the full title of the organization was the “President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.” And I know that the end-of-year 2011 report of the Council covered a number of competitiveness topics (see also Steve Case’s recent report card on implementing some of the Council’s recommendations). But that report, as Erza Klein points out, was generally ignored by the media and politicians.
In that regard, the name of the Council worked against it. It was known as the Jobs Council. The “Competitiveness” part was ignored. Even the Council referred to itself as the “Jobs Council.”
So, goodbye to the Jobs Council; now let’s form a Competitiveness Council.
There are a couple of ways this could happen. Congress could restore funding for the Competitiveness Policy Council (CPC) they killed in the mid-1990s. During its life time, the CPC published a number of good reports — but never seemed to get much political traction. [In full disclosure, I wrote the legislation for the CPC and helped get it up and operating back when I served on Senate staff — so its demise was rather painful to me].
A better solution might be the idea advanced by the Center for American Progress (A Focus on Competitiveness) to create a system of assessments, report and organizations:
  • A Quadrennial Competitiveness Assessment by an independent panel of the National Academies whose objectives are to collect input and information from many sources and perform a horizon scan that identifies long-term competitiveness challenges and opportunities
  • A Biannual Presidential Competitiveness Strategy that lays out the president’s competitiveness agenda and policy priorities, and captures the attention and buy-in of cabinet principals
  • An Interagency Competitiveness Task Force led by a new deputy at the National Economic Council that develops the biannual strategy, oversees White House coordination of competitiveness initiatives, and monitors their implementation by agencies
  • A Presidential Competitiveness Advisory Panel of business and labor leaders, academics, and other experts who assist the administration in developing policy details.
As I’ve noted a number of times before, I think this system is much preferable to proposed government reorganization plans. It is also superior to stand-alone councils like the Jobs Council.
In any event, let us not cry over the end of the Jobs Council. Let’s focus on their recommendations and on embedding the overarching issue of competitiveness into the policy debate.

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