Last week, President Obama announced a new executive order on ethics commitments by executive branch personnel. One of the provisions of this order deals with former lobbyists and their potential work within the Obama Administration.
Just two days later, President Obama waived those rules for William Lynn, his nominee for Deputy Secretary of Defense.
To be sure, Lynn is likely a very qualified and prepared candidate for a position of such importance. His experience is probably necessary to deal with the current state of affairs that the Department of Defense is faced with today. Lynn’s presence and leadership in the department could very well be effective and meaningful.
If the order had dealt with any other matter within the Administration, one in which so much faith and trust was not as inherent a virtue, this would likely not be a big deal, nor could any member of the opposition argue as such. However, the order dealt with ethics rules, and President Obama quickly decided to waive the rules for his appointment, as is his prerogative.
Still recovering from the good vibes and inclusiveness of his history-making presidency, I am sure that President Obama will be given a good amount of latitude as he works his way through his first 100 days with intensity and tirelessness, as the current situation demands.
But foregoing his own ethics rules so soon is not the great start I wanted to see from an Obama Administration. I was similarly disappointed during the general election campaign when then-Senator Obama went back on his pledge to take public funds for his campaign. Of course, the record amounts of fundraising were a substantial factor in his ability to compete across the board, but the fact remains that he was willing to go back on a pledge for a positive result.
With the turnaround timing of the waiver of his own ethics rules, the question then becomes, is it OK to waive a rule, or go back on a commitment if doing so achieves a better outcome? If the president knew that Lynn was going to be his nominee before the ethics rules were circulated, which is likely given the timing of each announcement, why not carve out a special exception for Lynn in the language, or delay the announcement of the rules?