Still no revolving door

When Bill Clinton came to Washington eight years ago, he proclaimed he would appoint only the most ethical individuals to senior government positions. According to Clinton, his appointees would not only comply with the government ethics laws already in force, they would follow higher standards established in his first executive order.

Under that order, all of Clinton's senior political appointees were required to sign legally binding contracts under which they agreed to refrain — for five years after leaving government service — from knowingly contacting any officers or employees of their former agencies with an intent to influence official action. Thus, the executive order was supposed to stop, or at least slow, the "revolving door" between government and the private sector.

In this regard, Clinton's order merely supplemented long-standing statutory prohibitions. In fact, all former em-ployees of federal agencies are barred for life from communicating with any federal agency or court in connection with any matter if the person participated directly and substantially in the matter while employed by the government.

Also, all former employees of agencies are barred for two years in connection with any matter if: (a) the person knows or should know that the matter was pending under his or her official responsibility within one year before leaving government service, (b) the United States has a direct interest in the matter, and (c) the matter involved a specific party at the time it was pending.

Furthermore, certain "senior personnel" are barred for one year after leaving government service from communicating with or appearing before any officer or employee of their former agencies on behalf of any other person. Many political appointees are considered "senior personnel" in this regard.

These laws provide considerable protection against potential abuse by former government officials who might otherwise try to cash in improperly on their government service. Yet, over the years some people have called for even greater restrictions.

The best argument made for not imposing more restrictions is the concern that too-stringent post-employment rules could make it hard for the government to recruit the best talent. Only those people with no meaningful alternative would want to work for the government. Looking at it this way, Clinton's decision to impose extra post-employment restrictions on his appointees might have been ill-advised.

As one of his last acts as president, Clinton revoked the executive order so that future appointees will not be bound by it. But revoking it likely will not release all those Clinton appointees who signed binding contracts "as a condition of their employment" with the government to refrain from communicating with their former agencies for five years.

Those appointees are certainly not exempt from the laws already out there prohibiting interaction with their old agencies. So I'm sure they'll be missed.

Peckinpaugh is corporate counsel for DynCorp, Reston, Va

Materials discussed in this column

Executive Order 12834 (Jan. 20, 1993) (Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch Appointees); Executive Order 12834 (Dec. 28, 2000) (Revocation of Executive Order 12834); 18 U.S.C. 207 (criminal sanctions for post-federal employment conflicts of interest). See also Memorandum from George W. Bush to Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies (Jan. 20, 2001), http://www.whitehouse.gov/
news/releases, 20010124-2.html
(standards of official conduct); 5 C.F.R. Parts 2637 and 2641 (post-employment conflicts of interest).


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