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Obama's top economic aide postpones move as website fix continues

The Obama administration's Director of the National Economic Council Gene Sperling speaks with New York Times David Leonhardt (not pictured)
The Obama administration's Director of the National Economic Council Gene Sperling speaks with New York Times David Leonhardt (not pictured)

By Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama's top economic aide Gene Sperling is postponing his departure from the White House for a month while his replacement, Jeffrey Zients, gears up for the new job after overseeing intensive efforts to fix the website used to shop for Obamacare health insurance, the White House said on Tuesday.

Obama had announced in September that his longtime adviser Sperling would step down as head of the National Economic Council on January 1, and named Zients, a trusted budget aide, as his replacement.

But in mid-October he brought in Zients to take charge of efforts to fix HealthCare.gov, the broken website at the heart of his signature health reforms.

The White House has said that Zients, who is a special adviser for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, will be replaced when he starts his new job. Zients' replacement has not yet been announced.

It is not clear when he will begin at the National Economic Council. Sperling will stay for the month, a White House official said, speaking on background. The extension was first reported by the New York Times.

That timetable means Sperling will be around leading up to Obama's State of the Union address, slated for January 28. The president's budget request to Congress normally is released in February.

Zients had promised to make the website work smoothly for most people by the end of November, leading a team of contractors in a round-the-clock overhaul of the site.

Since those improvements, more Americans have been able to enroll in health insurance leading up to December 23, a critical deadline for consumers needing insurance coverage by January. Work continues to build other "back end" parts of the site.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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