Auto team drives imports
Fed task force has few new U.S. cars
David Shepardson / Detroit News Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -- The vehicles owned by the Obama administration's auto team could reflect one reason why Detroit's Big Three automakers are in trouble: The list includes few new American cars.
Among the eight members named Friday to the Presidential Task Force on the Auto Industry and the 10 senior policy aides who will assist them in their work, two own American models. Add the Treasury Department's special adviser to the task force and the total jumps to three.
The Detroit News reviewed public records to discover what many of the task force and staff members drove, but information was not available on all of the officials, and records for some states were not complete.
At least two task force members don't own a car, and there are still two open slots on the 10-member panel that will be filled by the secretaries of labor and commerce, who have not yet been appointed.
The co-chairs of the task force -- Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner and White House National Economic Council Director Lawrence Summers -- both own foreign automobiles.
Geithner owns a 2008 Acura TSX, registered in New York. He once owned a 1999 Honda Accord and a 2002 Acura MDX, according to public records.
Geithner is the president's designee for purposes of enforcing loan agreements with GM and Chrysler and must approve or reject any proposed transactions by either company that would cost $100 million or more.
His maternal grandfather, Charles Moore, was a vice president at Ford Motor Co. from 1952-63, according to Peter Geithner, the secretary's father. But Geithner wasn't very interested in cars growing up -- in part because he graduated from high school in Asia, his father said.
Summers owns a 1995 Mazda Protege that's registered in Massachusetts. He previously owned a 1996 Ford Taurus GL.
What other task force members drive:
• Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag owns a 2008 Honda Odyssey and a 2004 Volvo S60. He previously owned a 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee and 1982 Datsun.
• Carol Browner, the White House climate czar, said earlier this month at the Washington Auto Show that she doesn't own an automobile. Public records show she once owned a 1999 Saab 9-5 SE.
• Energy Secretary Steven Chu doesn't own a car, his wife, Jean Fetter, said in a telephone interview on Sunday. Cabinet officials are typically transported to and from work by security officials in government vehicles.
• Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson owns a 2008 Toyota Prius and a Honda Odyssey minivan, she said Sunday. "It's great," she said of her Prius.
• Vehicle information was not available for Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood or Christine Romer, head of the Council of Economic Advisers.
Here's what task force policy aides drive:
• Austan Goolsbee, staff director and chief economist for the White House Economic Recovery Advisory Board, owns a 2004 Toyota Highlander.
• Joan DeBoer, the chief of staff to LaHood, said in an interview Sunday she drives a 2008 Lexus RX 350. She doesn't consider herself "a car buff" and views her car as a way to get around town.
• Heather Zichal, deputy director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change, owns a Volvo C30, according to public records and officials.
• Gene Sperling, counsel to the Treasury Secretary, owns a 2003 Lincoln LS, and previously owned a 1993 Saturn SL2.
• Edward B. Montgomery, senior adviser to the Labor Department, owns a 1991 Harley-Davidson and previously owned a 1990 Ford Taurus L station wagon, public records show.
• Lisa Heinzerling, senior climate policy counsel to the head of the EPA, owns a 1998 Subaru Legacy Outback station wagon, according to her husband.
• Diana Farrell, the deputy National Economic Council director, doesn't own a vehicle. Her husband, Scott Pearson, owns a 1985 Peugeot 505 S.
• Dan Utech, senior adviser to the Energy Secretary, owns a 2003 Mini Cooper S two-door hatchback.
• Rick Wade, a senior adviser at the Commerce Department, owns a 1998 Chevrolet Cavalier and previously owned a 1998 Toyota Corolla.
• Jared Bernstein, Vice President Joe Biden's chief economist, owns a 2005 Honda Odyssey.
The White House declined to comment.
President Barack Obama traded in his Chrysler 300C for a more fuel-efficient Ford Escape hybrid during the 2008 presidential campaign.
Joe Biden, the son of a car dealer, owns a 1967 Chevrolet Corvette -- a wedding present from his dad. He primarily commuted from Delaware to the Senate on Amtrak.
Ron Bloom, a special adviser to the Treasury Department who is also advising the task force, owns an aging Ford Taurus.
You can reach David Shepardson at [email protected]