* Announcement of Burwell for OMB head is expected soon
* Pritzker is an Obama friend
* Zients authored proposal to combine USTR under Commerce
By Jeff Mason and Doug Palmer
WASHINGTON, Feb 6 Acting White House budget
director Jeffrey Zients is the frontrunner to become U.S. Trade
Representative, and Chicago businesswoman Penny Pritzker is
under consideration for Commerce chief, sources familiar with
the matter said on Wednesday.
Zients is a former U.S. business executive, who Obama tapped
in 2009 to the new position of U.S. chief performance officer.
Though he was considered for the top position at the White House
Office of Management and Budget, sources said Obama has chosen
Walmart Foundation head Sylvia Mathews Burwell for that job.
An announcement of her selection was expected soon.
Pritzker is a friend of Obama's and played roles in both of
his presidential campaigns. She was a national co-chair of his
2012 re-election effort and was national finance chair of his
Pritzker took herself out of consideration for Commerce
Secretary in Obama's first term. She served on Obama's Council
on Jobs and Competitiveness as well as the President's Economic
Recovery Advisory Board.
Zients is the main author of an Obama administration
proposal to reorganize the federal government's various trade
agencies, including the U.S. Trade Representative's office, into
a revamped Commerce Department.
The Senate Finance Committee and the House of
Representatives Ways and Means Committee have expressed concern
over the plan, fearing it would weaken USTR.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also opposes the plan, although
John Engler, president of the Business Roundtable and a former
Michigan governor, wrote an opinion piece with Zients urging
Congress to give Obama broad powers to reorganize the federal
The next U.S. trade representative faces a full slate of
projects, including talks with 10 other countries in the
Asia-Pacific on a regional free trade agreement that negotiators
hope to finish this year.
The United States and the European Union also are widely
expected to launch talks on transatlantic trade pacts in coming
months in a bid to build on the world's largest trade and
investment relationship to create new jobs.
The new USTR will also play a key role in managing the
complex trade relationship with China. That could include
bringing more cases at the World Trade Organization to open the
world's second-largest economy to more U.S. goods and services.
The United States and about 20 other countries also hope to
launch talks on an international agreement to lower barriers to
trade and investment in services sectors ranging from finance to
Another ongoing initiative would expand duty-free treatment
under the WTO's Information Technology Agreement to more