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Ethics Update

As he has done before in the spirit of transparency, Norm Eisen, special counsel to the president for ethics and government reform, asked us to pass along this update on the President’s Executive Order on Ethics:

Just a quick post to advise that we granted an authorization under Section 3 of the President’s Ethics Executive Order to Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett to lead the White House's effort to support Chicago's bid to secure the 2016 Olympics.
The President promised during the campaign that staff would not work on contracts or regulations directly related to their former employers.  We have captured that promise in Paragraph 2 of our revolving door rules, which applies to non-lobbyists.  Valerie previously served as Vice Chair of Chicago 2016, the non-profit entity responsible for the Chicago bid.  Although Chicago 2016 was not her "former employer" in traditional terms, the term "former employer" in the President's Order encompasses entities that appointees served as directors or officers, as Valerie did here.  (To be clear, Valerie was not a lobbyist for Chicago 2016, and this waiver has nothing to do with lobbying.)
We decided that a waiver of Paragraph 2 was in the public interest in order to help bring the Olympics back to the United States. Valerie’s past experience with Chicago 2016 makes her ideal to work with the city and its bid committee to help win the Olympics for the U.S., with the many benefits that would bestow.  In her time working with the City of Chicago on its bid, she developed knowledge about the process that will make her a powerful advocate and liaison.  Although Valerie previously volunteered with Chicago 2016, she has no continuing financial relationship with them.  Since the Administration already plans on vigorously supporting the United States’ sole 2016 Olympic bid, we felt that letting Valerie lead our efforts was strongly in the public interest.  The authorization can be found here (pdf).
As I have previously noted on this blog, the availability of waivers in appropriate cases has been praised by ethics experts and commentators alike:

  • Norman Ornstein, a Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute stated that "This tough and commendable new set of ethics provisions goes a long way toward breaking the worst effects of the revolving door. There are many qualified people for the vast majority of government posts. But a tough ethics provision cannot be so tough and rigid that it hurts the country unintentionally. Kudos to President Obama for adding a waiver provision, to be used sparingly for special cases in the national interest. This is all about appropriate balance, and this new executive order strikes just the right balance."

  • Thomas Mann, Senior Fellow of Governance Studies and the Brookings Institution said that "The new Obama ethics code is strict and should advance the objective of reducing the purely financial incentives in public service.  I applaud another provision of the EO, namely the waiver provision that allows the government to secure the essential services of individuals who might formally be constrained from doing so by the letter of the code.  The safeguards built into the waiver provision strike the right balance."

  • The Washington Post editorialized that the President had "adopted a tough ethics policy . . . sweeping in time and scope."  The editorial board wrote that "The president's rule ensures that any conflicts will be carefully watched, and his flexibility despite certain criticism signals an ability to make hard but reasonable calls."