Investigation: Trump Ethics Pledge a Paper Tiger

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June 6, 2017

Twenty-six federal agencies provided no ethics waivers relating to political appointees in the Trump administration in response to Freedom of Information Act requests made by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), the organization revealed today. Some of these agencies employ recently registered lobbyists, raising concerns that the appointees might be in violation of aspects of President Trump’s ethics pledge.

As the Office of Government Ethics prepares to publicly disclose ethics waivers given to political appointees in federal agencies, the new POGO investigation shows that the full picture of potential conflicts of interest in the administration is far from clear due to vague definitions, loopholes, and decades-old systemic weaknesses in the federal government’s ethics system.

The Trump administration disclosed last week that it is giving some of its conflicted political appointees in the White House a pass when it comes to complying with President Trump’s ethics pledge. Trump’s ethics pledge applies to all political appointees, both in the White House and in federal agencies.

A key concern relates to former lobbyists with a financial stake in government decision-making who become political appointees. The revolving door of former lobbyists into the highest reaches of government creates a significant risk that these former lobbyists could be boosting their former employers’ or ex-clients’ profits at the expense of the rest of us.

“Ethics pledges are put in place to prevent special interests from displacing the public interest in government,” said POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian. “Unfortunately the current ethics system  does not appear to provide adequate protection. The administration should establish a central repository for all ethics waivers, recusal agreements, and other ethics disclosures so the public can see who is running their government and hold them accountable.”

POGO filed FOIA requests with 54 federal agencies in April for all ethics waivers and recusal agreements issued since January. Twenty-eight agencies have not responded to date.

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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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