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A Washington that is More Reflective of All of America

Norm Eisen, special counsel to the president for ethics and government reform, goes deeper into why the Administration is barring the appointment (and reappointment) of federally registered lobbyists to agency boards and commissions.

Just a quick post to report on a meeting today with a group of lobbyists and others who currently chair Industry Trade Advisory Committees (ITACs). The group had objected to the Administration's new policies barring the appointment (and reappointment) of federally registered lobbyists to agency boards and commissions. Although we have previously addressed their views here and here, we feel it important to meet with those with whom we disagree to discuss their concerns face to face. Much of the discussion focused on the arguments offered in the letter the group sent us (pdf) and our response letter (pdf). Click here (pdf) for the list of attendees.

We explained to the ITAC chairs that this issue is not about the few corrupt lobbyists or specific abuses by the profession, but rather concerns the system as a whole. For too long, lobbyists and those who can afford their services have held disproportionate influence over national policy making. The purpose of the President’s agenda to change the way business is done in Washington is to level the playing field to make sure that all Americans and not just those with access to money or power are able to have their voices heard and their concerns addressed by Washington.

We explained that in deciding to limit the ability of lobbyists to serve in government positions, including as members of agency advisory boards and commissions, we considered various arguments and counterarguments. We weighed the options, and considered the alternatives. In the end, we decided that while lobbyists have a right to petition the government, it would best serve the interests of a fairer and more representative democracy if we limited their ability to do so from special positions of privileged access within the government.

The result will be a Washington that is more reflective of all of America. We have already begun the process of recruiting new voices to advise the government through these agency boards. We believe small- and medium-sized business owners will be excited by the opportunity to help serve their country and advocate for their interests.

To make it even easier for those with valuable insight and expertise to offer to join this process from outside the Beltway, the Administration is working to develop tools to utilize internet technologies to make federal advisory committee proceedings accessible online. For example, the most recent meeting of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) was watched online by 5000 people. This Administration is committed to seeking out those voices and bringing the change they represent into the decision making process in Washington.

We explained this to the ITAC chairs and asked for their help in reaching out to broaden and diversify these boards and commissions. We informed them that while we will always seek ways to improve good policies, we do not intend to rescind this decision. The ITAC chairs, although expressing their disagreement, are willing to assist in finding qualified replacements and we thank them for their commitment to working together to make the system work better for everyone.

Finally, we also replied to a letter from the American League of Lobbyists on this subject today-ALL's letter is here (pdf) and our reply is here (pdf).

Norm Eisen is special counsel to the president for ethics and government reform