The role would give Sperling broad oversight of the administration's economic policies as the White House contends with near-double digit unemployment and looming legislative battles on the budget and deficit. His appointment comes amid a broader shake-up of Obama's senior staff as the White House ramps up the president's re-election campaign.
While the White House has not confirmed Sperling's appointment, his selection is all but certain. Obama was to announce Sperling's new post, as well as other changes to the economic team, Friday morning during remarks on the economy.
The announcement coincides with the release of the December employment report, which economists expect to show a but not enough to make much of a dent in the nation's 9.8 percent unemployment rate.
Sperling, currently a senior counselor to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, would assume his new role as the White House seeks to accelerate the recovery and find an antidote to the sky-high jobless numbers. That would place him at the center of a debate with economic ramifications for the country and political implications for Obama when he seeks re-election in 2012.
Sperling, who advised President Bill Clinton and 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, is perceived as the type of rare policy adviser who also has a deft touch communicating the message in a legislative and political environment.
"That skill becomes even more important when the Congress is controlled by the opposition party," said Robert Greenstein, executive director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning research group.
Friday's announcement also comes as Obama shuffles his top leadership following sweeping defeats for the president's party in the midterm elections.
• Obama named , a prominent business executive, as his chief of staff Thursday. Is Bill Daley Key to Obama's Success?
• Press secretary the White House next month to become a paid consultant to Obama's re-election campaign. Analysis of Gibbs' Departure
• Senior adviser David Axelrod will head to Chicago next month to lead the re-election campaign, with Obama's former campaign manager David Plouffe filling his role at the White House.
Sperling would replace Lawrence Summers, who left the White House at the end of December to return to Harvard University after two years as NEC director.
For Sperling, the appointment would be a return to a familiar role. He served as deputy NEC director under Clinton and was promoted to director in 1997. He played a key role in the 1993 deficit reduction bill and compromised with a Republican-led Congress on the 1997 balanced budget agreement.
Sperling's pragmatism and his work as a corporate philanthropy consultant to Goldman Sachs, where he was paid more than $880,000, has prompted some liberals to voice misgivings about his appointment. He helped the investment bank design an initiative to provide business education to women in developing countries. He also worked with actress Angelina Jolie to develop education programs for children living in conflict-ridden countries.
"It's hard for me to believe someone gives you $900,000 and you don't feel positively disposed toward them," said Dean Baker, co-director of the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research.
But Greenstein defended Sperling as an advocate of policies that help low and moderate income families and especially children.
"That's not exactly what comes to mind when this label gets thrown around that he has ties to Wall Street," Greenstein said.
As a counselor to Geithner, Sperling, 52, has worked closely with the president and played a key role in budget negotiations and the administration's small business initiatives. Administration officials say Sperling made a strong impression on the president last month when he helped secure a compromise with Republican lawmakers on a for all income earners.
The selection process for the council dragged on for months. Summers in September, and many in the administration knew well before then that he planned to return to Harvard.
Some White House aides originally wanted Obama to name a business leader to the council job as a way to give the private sector a greater voice in the administration and ease the perception that the president is anti-business. But finding a CEO with economic credentials proved difficult and the White House thinking evolved over time.
Officials became more inclined to find another prominent job for a private sector appointee while leaving the council post to a policy heavyweight who could coordinate the advice Obama receives from throughout the administration.