Obama taps ex-budget chief Zients as top economic adviser

President Obama on Friday named former acting Budget Director Jeffrey Zients to replace Gene Sperling as the administration's top economic adviser.

Sperling, the first person to serve as director of the National Economic Council under two separate presidents, will leave the position at the end of the year. Sperling has played a central role on the Obama administration's economic team, representing the president in budget negotiations with Congress as well as designing the president's jobs bill.

In a statement, Obama heralded Sperling as "one of my closest advisors and a close friend."

“Gene’s relentless work ethic, sharp intellect and ability to work across the aisle have been instrumental in our efforts to build a better bargain for the middle class and reduce the deficit while also protecting the most vulnerable," Obama said. "I want to thank Gene and his family for their service and I look forward to having his counsel for the rest of the year."

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Sperling may be best remembered for a dustup with veteran Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, who said Sperling made him "very uncomfortable" when, in an email, he said the reporter would "regret" questioning the White House account of how sequestration originated.

The email exchange was later leaked to the press and revealed that Sperling had struck a conciliatory tone. In a subsequent interview with ABC News, Sperling said that he hoped "that him and I can put this behind us.”

“I’ve known Bob Woodward for 20 years. We’ve had a very friendly and respectful relationship. I think virtually everybody who has looked at my email to him and his reply to me thought those emails reflected that degree of respect and politeness,” Sperling said.

Sperling is expected to take a private sector job, although it's possible he would join former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's campaign team if she opts to run for president in 2016.

While Sperling is a Washington veteran, Zients had no government experience before joining the administration in 2009 as the deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget. A private equity and corporate management specialist, Zients twice served as acting budget director and led an effort to reorganize federal agencies to eliminate inefficiencies.

"Jeff has a sterling reputation as a business leader, and he earned the admiration and respect of everyone he worked with during his four years in leadership positions at the Office of Management and Budget," Obama said.

"I am certain that in Jeff’s hands we will continue to have strong leadership of our economic policy team and his advice will be critical as we keep moving this country forward and building an economy where everyone who works hard can get ahead.”

— This story was updated at 10:18 a.m.