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Economic Adviser to Depart WH

Washington (wp) — President Obama on Friday shook up his second-term economic team, announcing that long-term economic adviser Gene Sperling would be leaving at the end of the year and former top budget aide Jeff Zients would replace him.

Sperling, the director of the National Economic Council (NEC), has told friends he is leaving so he can spend more time with his family,which recently moved to California. Known for a frenetic work pace, Sperling also was director of the NEC in the Clinton administration.

His most recent stint as NEC director began in 2011, and he has coordinated all of Obama’s economic policy. Sperling spent the first two years of the administration as an adviser to then-Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

“Gene understands better than anybody that our top priority as a nation is making sure that our economy once again works for working Americans,” Obama said in a statement Friday.

The president noted that Sperling has played a central role in promoting the 2010 payroll tax cut, which economists say helped keep the economy out of a second recession. He also developed the American Jobs Act, Obama’s major piece of economic legislation after the stimulus, and had a focus on policies to lift manufacturing.

Zients spent most of his career in the private sector, much of it in the Washington area, serving as a top executive at the Advisory Board Company and Corporate Executive Board, among other firms. He joined the Office of Management and Budget in 2009 as one of the few top economic officials with deep business experience.

He twice served as acting budget director but wasn’t tapped for the full-time OMB post. He was also considered for two other slots, U.S. trade representative and commerce secretary, though those positions also went elsewhere.

“Jeff has a sterling reputation as a business leader, and he earned the admiration and respect of everyone he worked with during his four years in leadership positions at the Office of Management and Budget,” Obama said in the statement.

In his earlier stint in the Obama administration, Zients advocated a plan to streamline government and consolidate agencies. The response to his appointment, which will come in January, split along partisan lines on Friday.

“This appointment sends a clear message: The President has no new plan, no new vision, and there will be no change in course,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.

But Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said: “Zients has a stellar reputation as a business leader and a great understanding of economic policy. His time leading the Office of Management and Budget has him well prepared for this new role.”

Sperling and Obama have been discussing his potential departure since December, though he will leave key allies well-placed in the administration. One of his deputies, Jason Furman, now serves as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, and another, Brian Deese, is deputy director of OMB.

Although it’s long been known that Sperling might be leaving, friends were surprised to hear it would really happen. Sperling has been glued to his West Wing office, spending much of his professional life there.

In recent months, however, Sperling has told friends that it has taken too much of a toll on his personal life, forcing him to commute almost every weekend to Los Angeles to be with his wife, Allison Abner, a television writer, and their children.

At the White House, Sperling will be present for one last round of bitter fights with Republicans over taxes and spending. Before leaving, he is also trying to see progress on housing finance reform through Congress and the announcement of a set of executive actions to help boost skills training and reduce long-term unemployment.

He has not yet plotted what he will do next.

— Washington Post