Biden Issues Sweeping Ethics Plan for Appointees

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Hours before departing the White House, former President Trump revoked his own ethics pledge, allowing current and former Trump appointees to immediately become lobbyists.

President Biden issued a sweeping executive order on Wednesday evening outlining ethics rules for officials serving in his administration. 

The executive order is one of many the new president signed just hours after taking the oath of office. Biden established a robust ethics platform during the campaign as well as a code of ethics for the transition. Now this ethics plan, for the approximately 1,200 Senate-confirmed positions in the federal government, builds on that code and is much stricter than those of his predecessors. 

The executive order aims “to restore and maintain public trust in government, and ensure that we are a government for the people,” said the transition team. “The ethics pledge and related ethics rules in the executive order are designed to ensure that executive branch employees act in the interest of the American people and not for personal gain. And the pledge commits federal employees to uphold the independence of the Department of Justice.” 

The order retains and strengthens several provisions from President Obama’s ethics orders. It keeps the ban from accepting gifts from lobbyists and the prohibition on appointees and lobbyists entering the administration from working on matters related to their prior employment for two years, but it also restricts foreign agents from entering the administration. 

Biden’s order restricts appointees from lobbying their former agencies upon leaving the government for two years, like Obama’s, but also stops them from communicating with the former agencies and senior White House staff. It also prohibits them from immediately becoming registered foreign agents. 

There is also a new provision to address “shadow lobbying,” by prohibiting individuals from working behind the scenes to lobby for a year after leaving. 

The order gives more guidance than Obama’s on waivers for exceptions to ethics rules and requires them to be made public within 10 days of being issued. Lastly, it prevents incoming officials from getting compensation from their former employers for taking a government job, referred to as “golden parachutes.”

“I had the privilege of implementing President Barack Obama’s demanding ethics vision for his administration,” but Biden’s “does us one better,” Norman Eisen, former ethics czar who is currently a senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, wrote in Politico on Tuesday. “It restores the fundamentals of the Obama plan, closing loopholes Trump opened—but going further, including new crackdowns on special interest influence. If implemented rigorously (always a big if) Biden’s plan promises to go further to ‘drain the swamp’ than either of his predecessors.” 

On Wednesday morning, President Trump revoked his own executive order on ethics rules, allowing current and former Trump appointees to immediately become lobbyists. President Clinton made a similar move before leaving office, The Associated Press reported

“The man who pledged to drain the swamp took a giant step to fill it,” said Noah Bookbinder, executive director of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington in a statement, on Trump. “Fortunately, Congress already has a plan to assure the American people that no future president can pull this bait-and-switch.” He called on Congress to pass and Biden to sign the “For the People Act,” which would codify ethics pledges. 

Biden’s executive order does not address possible conflicts of interest with family members. However, Biden told reporters in October 2019 that, if elected, no one in his family would work in the White House, sit in on meetings or have business relationships with foreign corporations or countries. 

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