Former LBJ school professor begins work as member of Trump administration’s Council of Economic Advisers

Chase Karacostas

UT faculty member Richard Burkhauser officially began work this month as a member of President Donald Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers, CEA.

A representative from the Trump administration reached out to Burkhauser about the position over the summer, and Burkhauser was officially appointed to the CEA early last month. To take the position, Burkhauser had to leave UT — forcing him to abandon a class he had planned to teach here — and head to Washington D.C.

Burkhauser said the CEA gives guidance to the president regarding the state of the economy and how certain policies could affect it.

“I’ve kind of been an ivy-tower public policy guy, telling people inside the beltway how to change their policies, so now I have the chance to be inside the beltway and work on some public policy issues,” Burkhauser said.

Burkhauser said the new job brings his career in public policy full circle. Fresh out of the University of Chicago Ph.D. program, Burkhauser went to work for the federal government in the Office of the Secretary of Health and Human Services over 30 years ago during the Carter administration.

“(My) first job was here, so it’s great to think of this as symmetry in my career,” Burkhauser said. “I started my career spending a year in Washington, and I’ll probably end my career spending a year or two here.”

Before the Bureau of Labor Statistics publicly releases data — even to the president — about the growth or decline in the number of American jobs, the CEA receives a report and analyzes any changes.

When a report released last week showed that 33,000 jobs were lost in September — the first decline in American jobs in seven years — the CEA took the data and studied what happened to cause the decline. Burkhauser said the week the survey was done, Hurricane Irma struck Florida, preventing the issuance of thousands of checks, as many had fled the state for safety. Because employment is measured by whether someone receives a check each month, the data was skewed.

Public affairs professor Sheila Olmstead just finished her time as the senior economist for energy and the environment at the CEA.

“The CEA’s job is to provide objective economic analysis to the president no matter who is in that office,” Olmstead said. “I have a deep interest — as do most people in the profession — in making sure good folks are on the CEA staff, and Dr. Burkhauser certainly fits that bill.”

Burkhauser said he hopes to return to UT at some point to teach the class he had to leave behind, which focuses on putting social security in the context of economic analysis. For now, Burkhauser said he is excited to start work at the CEA because of the younger people working there.

“As I’ve become more senior, it’s become more and more fun to work with younger people who have tremendous energy,” Burkhauser said.

Angela Evans, dean of the LBJ School of Public Affairs, said she has known Burkhauser for decades and jumped at the chance to bring him to UT a year and a half ago. Now, Evans said, she is sad to lose such a professional and seasoned researcher.

“I’m going to miss him, but I think this is going to be really good for the country, really good for the administration (and) really good for Congress to have someone like that,” Evans said.