Some in the news media were looking for the now expected ethics order and finally it appeared Sunday.

It consists of a pledge all newly appointed administration officials will sign. Two notable points are: 1) when an official leaves this administration, he/she may not become a lobbyist for 5 years, and 2) any official coming from being a lobbyist may not act on anything related to that lobbying effort for at least 2 years. It also includes the typical “no gifts” clause. Other sections of the lengthy order include definitions of terms used.

Somewhat alarming:

Sec. 3.  Waiver.  (a)  The President or his designee may grant to any person a waiver of any restrictions contained in the pledge signed by such person.

(b)  A waiver shall take effect when the certification is signed by the President or his designee.

(c)  A copy of the waiver certification shall be furnished to the person covered by the waiver and provided to the head of the agency in which that person is or was appointed to serve.

This is a major loophole that allows for this whole order to be moot anytime the president wants to negate it!

Because this wording seemed to be so odd, and because I have so little trust this president will not abuse this power, I decided to research the previous presidential orders on ethics, and found an interesting NPR article about the similarities between this order and previous Democratic presidents’ orders. There is more similarity to Clinton’s and Obama’s, and much less similarity to the two Bushes’ orders.

Even though there are great similarities, there are significant differences when it comes to the waiver clauses. For example, the waiver clause in Obama’s order was far more restrictive and referred to current and past government employees not newly hired ones. Here is the corresponding Executive Order 13490 of January 21, 2009 by President Obama.

George W. Bush: Memorandum on Standards of Official Conduct

Interestingly, his is not an official executive order, but just a memorandum to department and agency heads. It contains no pledge requirements and no waiver clause.

William J. Clinton Executive Order 12834—Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch Appointees

The waiver clause requires a reason for each waiver. It also requires that waiver, including the reason for it, to be published in the Federal Register, an expectation not present in any of the three subsequent presidents’ orders.

George H. W. Bush Executive Order 12674—Principles of Ethical Conduct for Government Officers and Employees signed April 12, 1989.

I found it interesting that the date is substantially later than those by following presidents. His order also rescinds two previous orders – one by Reagan in 1986 and the other dating to 1965 – that are about financial disclosures for executive branch employees.

It appears that while this kind of ethics order has become more or less routine, the regularity of issuing it early in an administration did not begin until the 1990’s.

Would that ethical restrictions such as these also applied to the president.

Executive Order signed January 28,2017.


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