White House Push on Hill Ethics Lags

Posted April 29, 2009 at 6:37pm

More than three months after the Obama administration unveiled a slate of ethics reforms aimed at Congress and the executive branch, the proposals addressing Congressional behavior have been largely mothballed as the White House focuses first on its side of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Aides to House and Senate leaders indicated the White House has not yet sought to address the issue, although the two branches worked together in March to tighten the rules governing earmarked federal dollars.

“We’re continuing to build on the greater accountability and transparency that first began in the 110th Congress. We’ve instituted additional reforms in the 111th Congress,— said Nadeam Elshami, spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Michael Steel, spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), said his office had not been consulted about any of the proposals.

“This sounds like just another example of how Democrats’ election-year promises on real reform here in Congress disappear once the election is over. It reminds me of the Shrek’ movies — they’re not draining the swamp,’ they’re building homes there,— Steel said.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) declined to comment.

The Obama administration unveiled a series of reform proposals on the White House Web site on Jan. 21, targeting not only its own practices — establishing restrictions to close the revolving door of aides-turned-lobbyists — but also improvements in Congressional procedures and enhancements in transparency.

Among those initiatives, the White House vowed to “fight for an independent watchdog agency to oversee the investigation of congressional ethics violations so that the public can be assured that ethics complaints will be investigated.—

In addition, the document called for a centralized, publicly accessible database containing “lobbying reports, ethics records, and campaign finance filing.—

But the White House subsequently scrubbed the entire section after only one day, and since Jan. 22, the Web site’s ethics section has contained only a short message noting that it is “currently being revised to reflect President Obama’s Executive Order concerning Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch Personnel.—

The Obama administration revived a portion of its recommendations in its fiscal 2010 budget overview, published in February.

In addition to renewing calls for a publicly accessible database, the budget document stated: “The Administration will continue to work with the Congress to provide greater transparency and accountability of earmarks, and to ensure that the American people are made well aware of how and where Federal money is spent.—

Several government watchdog organizations issued a statement Wednesday — President Barack Obama’s 100th day in office — praising the administration’s reforms in the executive branch.

“We believe the President has demonstrated in his first hundred days through words and deeds that he is serious about changing the rules of the game in Washington and increasing the voice of citizens in the governing process,— read the statement signed by Common Cause, Democracy 21, League of Women Voters, Public Citizen and U.S. PIRG.

Public Citizen’s Craig Holman added Wednesday that the White House has been active in its outreach to reform groups and that much of that effort is focused on executive branch reforms.

Holman noted that he would like to see restrictions adopted by Congress in the last session applied to the executive branch, such as banning privately sponsored travel for all executive employees.