When Marianne Wanamaker arrived in Washington, DC, to serve on the Council of Economic Advisors to the White House, she walked into an environment very different from academia.
“The biggest challenge has been adjusting to the pace,” Wanamaker, associate professor of economics at the Haslam College of Business and chief domestic economist at the National Bureau of Economic Research, says. “This is a place where you’re responsible for 20 tasks a day while trying to keep up with constant emails and phone calls.”
In July 2017, Wanamaker, who is both a Boyd Center and Kinney Family Faculty Fellow, dove into her one-year role as one of 10 senior economic advisors on the council serving under three political appointees. Council staff members hail from a variety of backgrounds, from academia and other sectors of government to private think tanks.
The council is tasked with assembling the annual Economic Report of the President, a congressionally mandated document due to the White House every February. “We try to raise issues in the American economy that we and the president believe should be the primary focus of any policy agenda,” says Wanamaker. “This year’s report talks about the importance of tax reform, the president’s deregulation agenda, the cyber security threat, and the stagnation of middle income and wages in America, laying out the case for why we need an infrastructure bill.”
Wanamaker’s job is to contribute whenever the conversation concerns labor markets, workers, or household incomes. “It’s almost never the case that a topic is pure and only touches one of us, so we work in teams,” she says. In addition to the annual report, members do internal research to support policy processes for the White House and produce other public reports.
Every month Wanamaker looks forward to the day the national jobs report comes out. The council receives an early copy of the numbers, and it is her job to prepare a brief for the president and a handful of other advisors to review the night before the release. A few minutes before the official data release, she joins statistical and political staff at the Department of Labor to brief the labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, on the forthcoming numbers. “In DC, and in any sort of economic circle, that report is a big deal,” she says. “It’s perhaps the most tracked economic indicator. Discussing it in the labor secretary’s office with an amazing view of the US Capitol is a surreal experience.”
Haslam is proud to have a faculty member serving in Wanamaker’s elite position, says Stephen L. Mangum, dean and Stokely Foundation Leadership Chair. “The council’s work may influence the decisions of the president and his team, move markets, and affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people,” Mangum says. “We are honored that Professor Wanamaker’s accomplishments and reputation warrant this great opportunity.”
Council Chairman Kevin Hassett calls Wanamaker a brilliant economist who has been involved in virtually every major economic decision made at the White House. “She’s the go-to person on so many issues it would take all day to list them,” Hassett says. “The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has made a major contribution to public life in the US by sharing such a talented professor with us.”