Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Van Zeck: A Very Cool Government Official

Robert Pear had a fantastic piece in yesterday's Times (here) profiling Van Zeck.

Zeck is the Commissioner of the Public Debt; he has served in that role since being appointed by Robert Rubin in 1998.

The Bureau of the Public Debt has 2,000 employees, most of whom work in Parkersburg, West Virginia. This year the Bureau anticipates holding 280 auctions of US debt; from 2004 through 2007, the average was 220 per year. Outstanding debt is $7.3 trillion, up from $3.4 trillion when Bush took office and $6.3 trillion when Obama took office.

According to Pear, Zeck is meticulous-to-a-tee: "Treasury auctions are an arcane business, and Mr. Zeck runs them so smoothly that Treasury secretaries and Congress rarely interfere. Mr. Zeck said he had not been called to testify before Congress in about 15 years."

He sounds very committed to public service (the "commonweal") -- almost in a Founding Fathers sort of way.

I just love this article. I've always been fascinated by the public debt (not least the sheer amount of it, but also the fact that the richest nation on earth can be so indebted), but its workings have struck me as incredibly mysterious. Pear's article puts a human face on this aspect of government. This is an example of journalism (in Pear's case) and public service (in Zeck's) at its best.

I also love the name Van Zeck.

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