DJ Nordquist and her husband Nels, with their children Lars, Britt Marie and Annika.

Five Questions with DJ Nordquist
Dept. of Education, FDIC, DHS, HUD 2003-08

DJ Nordquist returned to government service last year as chief of staff at the Council of Economic Advisors in the White House. DJ (her given first name is Jennifer – “DJ” was a nickname assigned by a classmate in fourth grade) has had a fascinating career, spending eight years at the Brookings Institution following her time in the Bush Administration, where she served in senior communications roles at Education, the FDIC, Gulf Coast Rebuilding /DHS and HUD. In this month’s Five Questions With…DJ tells us about her work on the recently passed tax reform package and reflects on teamwork and camaraderie in the Bush Administration.

Q: Can you walk us through the experience of helping get the tax reform bill drafted and passed? 

Being at the Council of Economic Advisors as the tax bill was birthed and passed was an exciting, once-in-a-generation experience. Most of our work was providing economic analysis and arguments for the macroeconomic effects of lowering corporate taxes. CEA is different than the National Economic Council in that we are more academic and focused on the economic scientific literature -- sort of like being the White House's university faculty/think tank, staffed with PhD and other economists, many on loan from universities for a year or two. Our focus was on the corporate side of tax reform because that's where most of the evidence on the role of taxes and growth in the economy has been.

We wrote two papers examining the evidence – peer-reviewed, academic literature – to help policymakers understand the positive growth effects of tax reform, which we modeled in a very standard way. I was surprised at how some left-wing academics, who have spent years talking about how taxes impact behavior – which is why policymakers use taxes to change behavior – suddenly said there were no impacts to the economy from changing tax levels. Even President Obama extended President Bush’s tax cuts because he understood that taxes matter. But former Obama administration officials attacked our paper and our credibility, so we think we must have been effective! We believe the U.S. isn't resigned to "secular stagnation" – the slow growth of the Obama years — we can do better for the American people. Policies like low taxes and deregulation matter.

Q: What will you remember most about the accomplishment?

I’m not sure any of us really thought the tax bill would pass, given how much time it typically takes for legislation to pass and the fact that we hadn't had major tax reform since 1986.  My boss had given me a bottle of absinthe as a gift in September, which I said we would only open if tax reform passed. I was thinking, “phew, that stuff scares me,” so we won't ever have to open it!  But we then we had to.  The entire CEA staff had an absinthe party in my office as we watched the vote on the Floor.  It was an historic moment and we survived the absinthe!

Q: You served with distinction in many roles in the Bush Administration - from Education to the FDIC to Gulf Coast Recovery and HUD.  After several years at Brookings, what made you decide to re-enter government service?

I greatly enjoyed my previous government service, especially being a part of something that had such a huge positive impact on so many people. I also believe in giving back to our country, which provides us so many opportunities and freedoms. I jumped at the chance to work at CEA because I believe policy should be informed by research, which is CEA's mission. CEA has such a unique place in the White House, and such an illustrious history, with so many superstar economists having served as CEA chair (Greenspan, Bernanke, Mankiw, Hubbard, Stiglitz). I was and remain honored and humbled to add my small part.

Q: What are your fondest memories or moments from your Bush Administration days?

I loved the sense of teamwork and working towards the goal to help our fellow countrymen that we shared in the Bush Administration. Having worked mainly in the private sector and think tanks before then, I had not really experienced that camaraderie with such a large group before.  It seems to me that feeling is definitely unique to government service.  The people I served with in the Administration remain some of my closest friends.  We still have such an amazing network of Bush 43 women who support each other both personally and professionally.

Q: What did you take from your Bush Administration experience that you use today?

My Bush Administration experience was quite varied. I worked on a wide range of domestic policy issues.  That has turned out to be extremely useful at CEA since we end up having to jump from issue to issue.  Most of our work is not visible to the public. We are asked to research all sorts of policy issues for different components in the White House.  Knowing how a range of agencies work has allowed me to help our staff apply economic science to help the government be as effective as possible.