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Project on Government Oversight

Ethics Office Proposes Revolving Door Rules Changes

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January 31, 2006

After a "comprehensive review," the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) has released its report on the status of the government's conflict of interest laws that apply to executive branch employment.

The report recommends that "Congress maintain the status quo, or modernize the statute to more accurately reflect the needs of today's executive branch, while continuing to proscribe conduct that remains improper." OGE includes ten recommendations, which both relax and expand conflict of interest and ethics laws. For example, OGE recommends waivers for "national interest" conflicts of interests. On the other hand, OGE recommended that the 1-year cooling-off period be applied to all members of the Senior Executive Service, both career and appointees.

More interesting, however, are some of OGE's rejected proposals. These rejected proposals include creating new behind-the-scenes restrictions when government employees "switch sides," establishing restrictions on senior policy makers who go to work for corporate entities (which POGO had recommended, see below), and adding an additional year or more to the 1-year cooling-off period for senior and very senior employees. In some instances, OGE stated that modifying conflict of interest laws could "adversely affect the recruitment and retention of new federal employees."

"The timing of this report could not be better," stated Scott Amey, the Project On Government Oversight's General Counsel. "Recent scandals involving Darleen Druyun, David Safavian, Randy 'Duke' Cunningham, and Jack Abramoff have shown that government integrity has been on the back burner for far too long. OGE's recommendations are a good step forward, but they need to go further to restrict policy makers as well. The government should stop federal policy makers from seeking employment with companies that significantly benefitted from their decisions. We need a system that encourages genuine public service rather than pandering to people who hope to turn their service into private gain," Amey added.

For more background on the report, see this Government Executive article

POGO submitted written comments to OGE and has published a report, The Politics of Contracting, which proposed common sense recommendations to improve government ethics. Two of POGO's recommendations would, if implemented, correct flaws in the system which led to high-profile revolving door scandals in recent years:

1. Prohibit, for a specified period of time, political appointees and Senior Executive Service policy makers (people who develop rules and determine requirements) from being able to seek employment from contractors who significantly benefited from the policies formulated by the government employee.

2. Close the loophole allowing former government employees to work for a different department or division of a contractor from the division that they oversaw as a government employee. That loophole allowed Darleen Druyun to land a well-paid position at Boeing after currying favor with the company for many years in her capacity as a Pentagon procurement official.

POGO made eleven additional recommendations that would correct other revolving door weaknesses. 
 

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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