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Swagel officially chosen for CBO director, replacing Hall

Ex-George W. Bush administration official will take over June 3

Departing CBO Director Keith Hall, right, here with Senate Budget Chairman Michael B. Enzi in 2018, has been serving in a temporary capacity since January. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Departing CBO Director Keith Hall, right, here with Senate Budget Chairman Michael B. Enzi in 2018, has been serving in a temporary capacity since January. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Phillip L. Swagel, an economist with extensive service in the George W. Bush administration, has been appointed the new director of the Congressional Budget Office.

Senate Budget Chairman Michael B. Enzi and House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth announced the appointment, which begins June 3.

Swagel currently serves as professor of international economic policy at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy. He is also a nonresident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.

He will replace Keith Hall, the current CBO director whose four-year term officially ended Jan. 3. Hall continued on in a temporary capacity while Budget Committee leaders in both chambers deliberated on his successor.

In a statement, Enzi said Swagel’s “strong academic and government experience, as well as his knowledge and expertise in economic forecasting, will serve him well as he leads CBO.” The Wyoming Republican said he is confident Swagel will “lead the agency with integrity and maintain the office’s reputation for non-partisan analysis.”

Yarmuth, a Kentucky Democrat, said he is “confident Dr. Phillip Swagel will ensure the office continues to fulfill its important mission” of providing Congress with nonpartisan and high-quality analysis to help make informed decisions on fiscal policy.

Both Enzi and Yarmuth thanked Hall for what they called his dedication and stewardship of CBO.

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Swagel served as assistant secretary for economic policy at Treasury during the Bush administration, where he was a member of the Troubled Asset Relief Program investment committee. He was responsible for analysis of issues including housing, financial markets, health care, pensions and macroeconomic forecasts.

Earlier, Swagel worked as chief of staff and a senior economist on the White House Council of Economic Advisers under Bush, and was an economist at the International Monetary Fund and the Federal Reserve Board.

Enzi took the lead in choosing Swagel under an informal arrangement in which the lead role alternates between the House and Senate Budget chairs.

Swagel’s appointment has drawn favorable reviews, including from people who worked with him or knew him when he served in the Bush administration.

“Phill’s a terrific choice,” said Charles Blahous, a senior research strategist at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and former public trustee for Social Security and Medicare. “His credentials as a top-tier economist are unassailable, and he’s respected on both sides of the aisle.”

Blahous, who served as deputy director of the National Economic Council under Bush, said Swagel “already knows his way around the policy landscape and the procedural landscape,” and “he’ll come into the job knowing where the flashpoints are and be ready to handle them.”

Robert L. Bixby, executive director of the deficit-conscious Concord Coalition, called Swagel a “highly respected economist who will uphold CBO’s deserved reputation for independence and integrity.”

Bixby said he first met Swagel when the economist was in the Bush Treasury Department. “Even though the Concord Coalition was critical of some of Bush’s budget policies, Phill wanted to focus on areas where we might have common ground,” Bixby said. “That sticks with me because the last thing Washington needs right now is an ideological crusader as CBO director.”

The CBO director is required under law to be appointed “without regard to political affiliation and solely on the basis of his fitness to perform his duties.”

In an interview, Swagel said it is too soon to discuss his priorities as director. Still, he said he has been thinking about Alice Rivlin, the first director of the CBO who died earlier this week, “and the incredible contribution she made to the office and to the country, and I’m hoping to live up to that standard and it’s a task.”

“I’d like to raise that legacy at every moment I can especially while the news of her passing is so recent,” he said.

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