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Obama taps USC VP Helen Garrett for his troubled Treasury Dept.

March 28, 2009 |  3:58 pm

The White House announced this afternoon that President Obama is nominating Helen Elizabeth Garrett as assistant secretary of Treasury for tax policy.

Garrett is currently vice president for academic planning and the budget at the University of Southern California, where she oversees the university's academic and budget priorities.

She's one of three senior Treasury Department appointments announced today as Obama and embattled Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner seek to fill numerous remaining posts there amid a barrage of ongoing controversies stemming from the recession, the Wall Street bailouts, the bizarre corporate bonuses and, frankly, Geithner's sometimes inarticulate handling of his public presentations. (Scroll down for a video of recent Geithner testimony to Congress on financial regulatory reform.)

Reports persist in Washington that numerous financial experts from New York have declined interest in Obama Treasury jobs given the surrounding controversies, public examination, frequent excoriations and the severe financial sacrifices involved in government service. Several commentators this week suggested the new Obama administration tap into academia, which doesn't pay the accustomed Wall Street salaries but does have funny hats and great gowns.

Geithner himself overcame serious initial public relations difficulties when it was revealed that the.... who would head the Treasury Department, including the Internal Revenue Service, owed more than $20,000 in back federal taxes, precisely the delicate area that Garrett will now oversee for him on the department level.

According to her White House bio, Garrett also is co-director of the USC-Caltech Center for the Study of Law and Politics and serves on the board of the Initiative and Referendum Institute at USC.

Four years ago President George W. Bush appointed her to a nine-member bipartisan advisory panel on federal tax reform, which issued its report in November 2005. She also serves as chair of the finance committee of the national governing board of Common Cause.

Garrett graduated from the University of Oklahoma and University of Virginia Law School, and later clerked on the Supreme Court for Justice Thurgood Marshall and on the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Her political experience includes legal counsel and legislative assistant for tax, budget and welfare reform issues for U.S. Sen. David L. Boren, an Oklahoma Democrat and ex-governor. Before joining USC Law in 2003, she was a professor at the University of Chicago's law school and also served as deputy dean for academic affairs.

She's been a visiting professor at the president's alma mater, Harvard Law School, the University of Virginia Law School, Central European University in Budapest and the Interdisciplinary Center Law School in Israel. Her recent academic articles have analyzed courts and political parties, campaign finance reform laws, various congressional procedures, judicial review of regulatory statutes and the initiative process.

The other two Treasury appointments announced today were another professor, Michael S. Barr, to become assistant secretary for financial institutions, and George W. Madison to become the department's general counsel. Madison is former vice president and executive counsel for TIAA-CREF and Barr is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and Brookings Institution.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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