As has become tradition, the Biden administration began its tenure in the White House with a multitude of executive orders. The actions have primarily addressed the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and immigration. One order that has gone largely unnoticed to this point however deals with ethics.
This is not a new effort. In fact, President Trump signed a similar order in 2017 that placed a five-year ban on lobbying activities related to the agency in which administration appointees served. That order was of course undermined when he revoked it on the final day of his presidency, thus allowing those appointees to serve as lobbyists immediately.
President Biden sought to restore limits on lobbying activities with his executive order which includes an ethics pledge and two-year restriction on those serving as registered lobbyists prior to and following being appointed to an administration position.
This appears to be a good rule on the surface and goes further than the rule enacted by Mr. Trump. In some ways, it even expands on a similar order signed by President Obama in 2009. As such the new EO received considerable praise upon its signing.
Norman Eisen, who served as Obama’s “ethics czar” and later as his ambassador to the Czech Republic wrote an Op-Ed for Politico in which he says in part:
“Biden’s ethics plan is the strongest, most ambitious swamp-draining plan ever. All of us will be watching to make sure it is scrupulously followed. If it is, cleaner government lies ahead—finally.”
Walter Schaub ran the Office of Government Ethics during the Obama administration and for a short time at the start of the Trump administration.
“I’d say it’s a very good executive order,” he said in part. “I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s great.”
He urged for increased transparency in order to hold officials accountable.
“People comply with rules if they know somebody’s going to come and check on whether they’ve complied,” Shaub said.
That brings us to this recent tweet from Shaub performing the role of watch dog.
Former and now current Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack got around these ethics rules with a simple albeit obvious and effective loophole. He didn’t register as a lobbyist because he didn’t directly lobby anyone, he was just in charge of the lobby.
A generous reading of the situation says that this violates the spirit of the rules. I would argue it’s a complete violation and the loophole should be closed immediately. It doesn’t seem terribly ethical for someone with close corporate ties to be able to skate into the lead role at the USDA. It seems further disappointing —though unsurprising— that his nomination gained unanimous consent by the Senate agriculture committee and finished with a resounding 92-7 confirmation vote in the Senate.
But on the bright side, at least he didn’t send out any mean tweets right?
Justin is a guest contributor to AltRaged and a longtime sports writer. His work has appeared in numerous online publications including Sports Illustrated, Vox, Inside The ACC, and Sons of Saturday. He currently lives in a fortified compound in upstate New York with his wife and numerous animals.