By Kevin Bogardus - 10/09/09 10:05 AM EDT
Several of the biggest departments in the federal government plan to adhere to the White House prohibition on lobbyists serving on their advisory boards and committees.
The Hill contacted all 20 Cabinet-level agencies to see if they intend to follow the guidance issued two weeks ago by the White House.
A spokesman for the Defense Department said that it plans to stick to the guidance but is reviewing how best to implement it for now.
“We fully intend to abide by the new White House guidance but are still in the process of evaluating it and assessing its impact,” said Geoff Morrell, press secretary for the Pentagon, in response to questions from The Hill.
If the Pentagon follows through on not appointing lobbyists to its advisory committees, that could affect a number of individuals who are advising Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
For example, Vin Weber sits on the Defense Policy Board, a powerful advisory committee in the Pentagon. Weber, a former Republican congressman from Minnesota, advises the secretary and other top officials in the Pentagon on defense policy along with 24 other panel members, including former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and retired Gen. Peter Pace, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
But Weber is a managing partner at Clark & Weinstock. He registered to lobby this year for a number of high-profile corporations, such as Bechtel, eBay and KPMG. Under the White House guidance, the lobbyist will either have to terminate his registration or not be reappointed when his term is up.
“If the policy permits me to stay under certain circumstances, I will. If not, I will thank them for the opportunity to serve,” Weber said.
Other board members could be affected by the new guidance in terms of whether they decide to return to lobbying or not.
Though not currently registered to lobby like Weber, former Rep. Dave McCurdy (D-Okla.) is president and CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and lobbied for the group last year. Frank Miller, a former National Security Council aide to President George W. Bush, has lobbied for clients at the Cohen Group in the past. Both now sit on the Defense Policy Board.
“I am not conducting lobbying activities now and I don’t see myself conducting lobbying activities in the future,” Miller said.
When issuing the guidance, Norm Eisen, special counsel to President Barack Obama for ethics and government reform, said it was the administration’s hope that lobbyists would not be appointed to advisory positions but it was up to the agencies to follow through.
“The White House has informed executive agencies and departments that it is our aspiration that federally registered lobbyists not be appointed to agency advisory boards and commissions,” Eisen wrote in the Sept. 23 blog post. “These appointees to boards and commissions, which are made by agencies and not the president, advise the federal government on a variety of policy areas.”
That left leeway on whether or not the agencies would follow through on the White House request. But several said they will adhere to the new guidance.
“We are implementing the policy,” said Laura Tischler, spokeswoman for the State Department.
Some Cabinet-level agencies will not be affected by the new guidance. Aides to the Council for Economic Advisers and the Office of Management and Budget said they do not have advisory committees under their jurisdiction.
“We do plan to follow the guidance,” said Melanie Roussell, press secretary for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
HUD does not have any advisory committees currently in operation other than the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, which only Cabinet secretaries and other high-profile officials serve on. If the department creates a new committee and reactivates an old one, it plans to follow the White House guidance.
Homeland Security already had an informal practice of not appointing lobbyists to boards and commissions since the new administration came in on Jan. 20 this year, Kuban said.
Several other departments confirmed they will follow the new guidance, including the Departments of Agriculture and Commerce as well as the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR).
Advisory committees under those particular agencies advise the government on trade and have several members who are lobbyists.
Consequently, the loudest protests of the new guidance are coming from those committee members, with many saying the voices of their industries will find themselves silenced during vital U.S. trade negotiations.
But watchdog groups have applauded the White House request.
“The government actually wants to hear from CEOs and those who have something at stake to advise them,” said Craig Holman, campaign finance lobbyist for Public Citizen. “It is perfectly logical to remove paid lobbyists from these positions. It is a means for their networking. For them, it is just business.”
Several other departments — such as Education, Interior and Transportation — confirmed before press time that they were following the guidance. That won praise from the White House.
“The administration does not believe all the wisdom in America resides on K Street. To further clamp down on the special interests, we are inviting voices outside of the Beltway to participate in the governmental process,” Eisen told The Hill. “We are very pleased that the agencies are following the president’s lead.”