Lawrence Summers plans to leave his job as director of the president's National Economic Council and return to Harvard University at the end of the year, the White House said Tuesday.
His departure would leave Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner as the only member of President Obama's original top-tier economic team. Last year, Obama asked Summers to stay through 2010 and his departure is part of a long-standing plan to return to Harvard, an administration official said.
Administration officials are weighing whether to put a prominent corporate executive in the NEC director's job to counter criticism that the administration is anti-business, one person familiar with White House discussions said.
White House aides are also eager to name a woman to serve in a high-level position, two people said.
They also are concerned finding someone with Summers' experience and stature, one person said.
"I will always be grateful that at a time of great peril for our country, a man of Larry's brilliance, experience and judgment was willing to answer the call and lead our economic team," Obama said in a news release Tuesday. "Over the past two years, he has helped guide us from the depths of the worst recession since the 1930s to renewed growth. And while we have much work ahead to repair the damage done by the recession, we are on a better path thanks in no small measure to Larry's wise counsel."
The second half of a president's term typically is a time of turnover in staff and advisers, many of whom also had roles in the presidential campaign.
Obama on Monday indicated that he realized some members of his White House economic team may leave.
"This is tough, the work that they do," he said in an hour-long town hall discussion on the economy broadcast on CNBC. "They've been at it for two years, and they're going to have a whole range of decisions about family that will factor into this, as well."
Since the end of July, Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Christina Romer, the head of the Council of Economic Advisers, left the administration.
Obama said Monday that he had "not made any determination about personnel." He praised Summers and Geithner.
Summers was President Bill Clinton's Treasury secretary from 1999 to 2001, when he became president of Harvard University. He earned his doctorate at Harvard in 1982 and became the university's youngest tenured professor at age 28.
He spent time on the staff of the White House Council of Economic Advisers in the 1980s before joining the World Bank as chief economist.
Summers has been a forceful advocate of his positions within the administration and also urged restraint on issues such as the economic stimulus and adoption of the Volcker Rule, which limits banks from engaging in proprietary trading, people familiar with discussions said.
In internal discussions, Summers has argued that the administration needs to make more overtures to the business community and has opposed political advisers who want the president to strike a more populist tone, one person said.