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Ethics Reform

Percentage complete: 34*


As a senator, Barack Obama helped pass an ethics bill intended to make information about earmarks and campaign contributions easier to find. As a presidential candidate, he made government transparency a cornerstone of his campaign, promising to push lobbyists out and bring ordinary citizens in.

As president, Obama has found that some of his ethics promises, such as a pledge to post bills online for five days before signing them, sounded better on the campaign trail than they do from the confines of the Oval Office. He made no headway on his proposal to create an independent agency to investigate congressional ethics violations, and just one day after signing an order imposing a two-year waiting period for lobbyists entering the executive branch, Obama sought a waiver for one of his high-profile nominees.

The administration, however, has earned cautious praise from ethics watchdogs for its efforts to move more federal information online, to end the use of no-bid contracts, and to open up parts of the White House visitor log. Ethics adviser Norman Eisen in September announced further steps to limit the influence of lobbyists by banning them from agency advisory panels, and a report from the Congressional Research Service in December concluded that the creation of these and other limits "has already changed the relationship between lobbyists and covered executive branch officials."


In the past, Washington's influence industry has proved adept at finding ways around restrictions. Already, reports of lobbyists deregistering or resorting to alternative disclosure forms have raised fears that by cracking down on lobbyists, the administration may end up driving some lobbying activities underground.

Read more about Obama's progress fulfilling his campaign promises on ethics reform.

Exceptions Will Be Granted

It took only 24 hours for the Obama administration to waive its new rules intended to limit the role of former lobbyists in the White House. But Obama's much-noted exception for Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn was only the first in a series of ethics waivers granted by the White House and the federal agencies. All told, over the course of its first year, the administration waived some portion of the ethics order for 21 of its top personnel.

As White House ethics adviser Norm Eisen pointed out in September, few of the waivers have involved registered lobbyists. Some suggest an excess of caution rather than a real attempt to bend the rules -- such as a pass sought by the U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States, Carmen Lomellin, because she had previously worked for OAS.


More troubling for some, however, is what's not on the list: the administration officials who have gotten around Obama's order by recusing themselves from working on issues they recently lobbied on. William Corr, for example, who was confirmed as deputy secretary for Health and Human Services in May, had to recuse himself from tobacco-related issues because of his recent work as an anti-tobacco lobbyist.

In June, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, sent a letter to the Office of Government Ethics seeking full disclosure of all such recusals, but the administration has yet to make such information available.

The following is a list of all ethics waivers announced so far by the White House and the Office of Government Ethics.

Jan. 22: William Lynn Obama's choice for deputy secretary of Defense was granted an ethics waiver the day after Obama signed an executive order intended to jam the revolving door between the White House and the lobbying industry. The waiver was necessary because Lynn had worked as a lobbyist for defense contractor Raytheon through June 2008.

Feb. 20: Jocelyn Frye The director of policy and projects in the Office of the First Lady was granted a waiver by Eisen. The waiver was necessary because Frye had worked until 2008 as a registered lobbyist with the National Partnership for Women and Families.

Feb. 20: Cecilia Muñoz The White House director of intergovernmental affairs was also granted a waiver on Feb. 20. The waiver was necessary because Muñoz had recently worked as a registered lobbyist for the National Council of La Raza.

March 23: Margot Rogers Rogers, chief of staff to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, received an ethics waiver for her work with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, her former employer.

April 2: Valerie Jarrett One of Obama's closest friends and a senior White House adviser, Jarrett received an ethics waiver in order to continue working on the administration's push to bring the Olympic Games to Chicago. She had recently sat as vice chair of the group Chicago 2016.

April 28: James Shelton The assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement at the Department of Education got an ethics waiver for his previous work with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

May 6: Eric Holder The attorney general was granted an ethics waiver in order to investigate government lawyers involved in the case against former Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska. The waiver was necessary because one of the Justice Department lawyers is represented by Holder's former firm, Covington & Burling LLP.

May 6: Lanny Breuer Breuer, an assistant attorney general, received the same waiver as Holder for the same reason.

May 6: David Ogden Ogden, who until his retirement last month was the deputy attorney general, received the same waiver as Holder because his former firm, WilmerHale, was also representing one of the lawyers under investigation.

May 11: Ashton Carter The undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics received a waiver in order to work on a matter regarding defense contractor Textron Inc., his former employer.

May 18: Naomi Walker In order to serve as associate deputy secretary of Labor, Walker received a limited waiver allowing her to work with her former employer, the AFL-CIO. She is not, however, allowed to work on matters regarding regulation of or contracts with the union.

May 19: Philip Reitinger The deputy undersecretary for the National Protection and Programs Directorate at the Homeland Security Department received a waiver for his previous work at Microsoft and two technology nonprofits.

July 23: Charles Bolden Bolden was granted a limited ethics waiver in order to become NASA administrator despite his previous work for two California-based space contractors, GenCorp and SAIC.

Aug. 13: Jonathan Kravis The White House associate counsel was granted an ethics waiver in order to continue working on unspecified projects related to former President George W. Bush. The waiver was necessary because Emmet Flood, a Bush lawyer, joined Kravis' former firm of Williams & Connolly LLP.

Aug. 13: Chris Weideman Weideman, also an associate counsel at the White House, received the same ethics waiver as Kravis for the same reason.

Aug. 24: Aaron Williams Obama's pick to head the Peace Corps was granted a limited waiver in order to participate in events run by the National Peace Corps Association, an organization for former volunteers.

Sept. 16: Herbert Allison The assistant Treasury secretary for financial stability, Allison was granted a waiver for his previous position as president and CEO of Fannie Mae.

Nov. 10: Joseph Main The assistant secretary of Labor for mine safety and health had to obtain a waiver because of his previous work as a consultant for the United Mine Workers of America.

Nov. 9: Rajiv Shah Shah received a waiver in his position as undersecretary for research, education and economics at the Department of Agriculture. The waiver was necessary because of his previous work with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Dec. 3: Carmen Lomellin The U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States requested an ethics waiver because of her previous work as an employee of OAS.

Dec. 30: John Brennan Brennan, the deputy national security adviser for homeland security and counterterrorism, was granted a special waiver in order to conduct an inquiry into the attempted Christmas Day bombing. The waiver was necessary because Brennan had previously worked for an intelligence firm called the Analysis Corp.

* "Percentage complete" refers to the average progress made completing each promise in this category -- not the percentage of promises that have been completed. If Obama has made no effort to complete a promise, he gets 0 percent for that promise. If he's taken some identifiable steps short of legislation or an executive order, he gets 25 percent. If legislation has been introduced or significant progress is apparent, he gets 50 percent. A 75 percent mark is awarded if most elements of completing a promise are in place but more work needs to be done. A 100 percent mark is given when the promise has been fulfilled.

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