Principle 4

The people in government should work for the public, not for personal or private interests.

The Problem

Despite numerous conflict of interest laws and regulations, insiders have mastered the art of the Washington revolving door between industry and government, and some federal government officials are unethical stewards of the public trust. Some use their office for personal or private gain, or provide favors, competitive advantages, or leniency to former or prospective employers, clients, and private sector entities to the detriment of the public. The current administration has exploited gaps in the law and the unenforceability of traditional norms to avoid accountability and oversight. Ethics laws that do not apply to the president, vice president, or their families have failed to prevent President Trump and his family from profiting from his presidency or hiring his family members. Many individuals who are hired to influence lawmakers and policymakers on behalf of private interests do not register as lobbyists and thereby do not publicly disclose their activity. Even when lobbyists register, they are not required to disclose information sufficient to inform the public of the details of their lobbying activity, including who they are specifically lobbying. The absence of more thorough disclosures deprives the public of meaningful transparency into how money, time and other lobbying resources are spent to influence decision-makers. In addition, the appointment of private-sector executives and lobbyists to posts within government that oversee their former industry or employer creates the potential for bias in policy formulation and regulatory enforcement. Business and special interest groups may “capture” a federal regulatory agency when their own personnel fill key government posts. And the government-to-industry revolving door allows the movement of public officials to lucrative private sector positions enable officials to use their public trust (while still in office) and government experience (after leaving public office) to unfairly benefit a new employer in matters of federal procurement, enforcement or regulatory policy. Finally, public officials’ official actions may be influenced by the implicit or explicit promise of a lucrative job in the private sector with an entity seeking a government contract or to shape public policy. Public officials-turned-lobbyists will have access to lawmakers that is not available to others, access that can be sold to the highest bidder among industries seeking to lobby.

Recommendations for Action on Day One

  1. Publicly commit to following federal ethics laws as if they are applicable to them and their families.

  2. Issue an ethics executive order that incorporates best practices from previous administrations’ ethics orders, including a strong ethics pledge.

    That executive order should also:

    1. Cover all persons entering government who have a conflict of interest in the outcome of federal policy decisions, not just lobbyists.

    2. Commit not to hire senior-level appointees who would frequently face conflicts of interest and require recusal.

    3. Institute a “golden parachute” restriction on those entering and leaving government, prohibiting employment of those who receive bonuses, compensation packages, or other gifts because of seeking or accepting government employment.

    4. Include a 2-year ban on accepting employment from, or representation of, any party that materially benefitted from a particular matter involving specific parties, or from a particular matter benefitting a particular entity, in which the appointee personally and substantially participated.

    5. Commit to providing waivers when a conflict is deemed minimal or when it is in the public interest to do so.

  3. Require agency heads and deputy heads to disclose contacts in which they discuss official business of any kind with any individual or entity who has made a substantial donation in the last ten years to the official’s prior state or federal campaign or to PACs and politically active groups supporting the official’s prior campaign.

  4. Prohibit stock trading activity by senior government officials, except for widely-held mutual funds.

    Require officials who continue to hold individual stocks while in office to place them into a genuine blind trust, run by an independent trustee with no family or business ties to the official, and in which the trustee does not inform the official of purchases and sales.

Recommendations for Short-term Actions (First 100 Days)

  1. Post conflicts-of-interest information online.

    The president should require the Office of Government Ethics to create an online resource (like an that lists officials, their recusals, and their waivers.

  2. Direct OMB to strengthen agency conflict-of-interest rules and practices.

    Through a memorandum to agency heads from the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, the president should:

    1. Require agencies to analyze emoluments and conflicts of interest. Notwithstanding any Office of Legal Counsel or other legal opinion, agencies should be required to assess the potential for conflicts of interest and emoluments violations any time agency heads or deputy heads receive agency funds. Such analyses should be filed with committees of jurisdiction in Congress and with the Office of Government Ethics;
    2. Use consistent standards in granting ethics waivers. Agencies should require all executive branch ethics waivers to be examined under a consistent standard and publicly disclosed;
    3. Limit officials’ acceptance of private travel services. Agencies should strengthen and enforce rules regarding top officials’ travel on private aircraft.
    4. Set strict anti-nepotism rules in the executive branch, including the White House.

  3. Direct all inaugural committees to impose strict contribution limits by amount and source, to disclose those contributions more quickly than is currently required by law, and ensure inaugural committee funds are used only for expenses reasonably associated with the inaugural ceremony.

Recommendations for Long-term Action

  1. Require Office of Government Ethics to create digital online tools to analyze Office of Government Ethics filings, such as by mapping related entities, listing entities in which the filer has financial interests, etc.

Recommendations for Legislative Action

  1. Work with Congress to pass legislation that would:
    1. Apply federal ethics laws to the president, vice president, and their families.
    2. Codify the improved ethics pledge.
    3. Amend 18 U.S.C. § 209, the supplementation of salary ban, to redefine salary to include bonuses, infamously known as “golden parachutes,” that companies pay employees contingent on their accepting a government job.
    4. Amend the Ethics in Government Act to require that the Director of the Office of Government Ethics shall be removed for cause only and allow the agency to communicate with Congress.
    5. Strike the exemption in the Procurement Integrity Act (41 U.S.C. § 2104(b)) that allows acquisition and program officials to accept “compensation from a division or affiliate of a contractor that does not produce the same or similar products or services as the entity of the contractor that is responsible for the contract[.]” President-elect Trump was on board with the recommendation: “I think anybody that gives out these big contracts should never ever, during their lifetime, be allowed to work for a defense company, for a company that makes that product.” This improvement should ensure the potential for waivers for officials who leave to enter academia.
    6. Prohibit stock trading activity by senior government officials and lawmakers, except for widely-held mutual funds. Require officials who continue to hold individual stocks while in office to place them into a genuine blind trust, run by an independent trustee with no family or business ties to the official, and in which the trustee does not inform the official of purchases and sales.
    7. Empower the Office of Government Ethics to designate incoming officials with particularly complicated financial holdings as “complex filers” and to require the official to submit an alternative to the standard 278 Form, as well as additional materials the Office of Government Ethics deems necessary to facilitate Office of Government Ethics determinations and meaningful public disclosures.
  2. Expand the ban on political spending by government contractors so it covers both direct contributions and political spending through so-called “independent” channels such as 501(c)(4) and other dark money groups that hide donor identities.