President Barack Obama’s Jobs Council hit a notable milestone on Thursday: one year without an official meeting. The 26-member panel is also set to expire at the end of the month, unless Obama extends its tenure.
The group, formally known as the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, last convened on Jan. 17, 2012 for a White House session where it presented formal recommendations to Obama. It was the panel’s fourth official meeting since it was created in early 2011.
A spokesman for Jobs Council chairman Jeffrey Immelt, who’s the CEO of General Electric, referred questions about the panel’s future to the White House.
A White House spokeswoman had no comment Thursday.
POLITICO caused a stir last July by reporting that the panel had not convened officially for six months. The story noted some simmering tension between the slew of business executives on the board and a pair of labor leaders who are also members of the group. The report also said that some CEOs were reluctant to appear with Obama at the height of the presidential campaign and that Obama’s public attacks on GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney for outsourcing complicated the idea of an election-season sit-down between the president and the business leaders.
Romney leapt on the story by accusing Obama of neglecting the panel and the broader issue of job creation. The White House’s initial response to the report also fanned the flames when Press Secretary Jay Carney said Obama was too busy to meet the panel, a remark the Obama aide later clarified by saying the president was “extremely appreciative” of the group’s work.
Immelt’s spokesman, Gary Sheffer, said Thursday that the council has not been idle in the past year – despite the lack of a public meeting or a full group meeting with Obama. The GE spokesman pointed to a series of “listening and action” events across the country where members of the council – usually one or two of them – talked about the panel’s work and solicited ideas from the public.
“The Council was focused in 2012 on implementing the recommendations made in its three reports. Of the 60 recommendations for executive action, significant progress has been made on 54. Also Congress passed legislation on six recommendations made by the Council,” Sheffer said in an email. Council recommendations led to administration initiatives to fast-track infrastructure projects, accelerate the processing of business and tourist visas, and a program to “look back” through existing regulations for those that are outdated and burdensome, Sheffer added. He also pointed to a series of public-private initiatives council members launched to jump start job creation.
It seems unlikely the panel will meet before Jan. 31. Its meetings are required to be announced in the Federal Register at least 15 days in advance and no future meeting has been noticed, though the notices for none of the four official sessions actually made it into the official docket 15 days ahead of time.
Despite the lack of public council meetings in the past year, council members have convened a series of private conference calls where they heard reports from and interacted with senior Obama Administration officials like National Economic Council chair Gene Sperling and Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
Though those calls were not open to the public, the public recently got some insight into what those discussions may have been like when Jobs Council member Robert Wolf scored a half-hour-long interview with Sperling earlier this month for Wolf’s Reuters TV show, “Impact Players.”
Wolf, former chairman of the American divison of Swiss bank UBS, launched the show in September. The Reuters website describes Wolf as “one of President Obama’s major fundraisers and outside advisers on economic issues.”
The Jobs Council is the successor to another outside panel Obama used during his first two years in office, the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, headed by former Federal Reserve chief Paul Volcker.