CBO updating policy for conflicts-of-interest

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is in the process of formalizing a new policy to protect against conflicts of interest with outside advisers.

On CBO’s “Objectivity” page, the agency said this week it began the process late last year of expanding its current policy to include “systematic disclosure to the agency by panelists and people being considered for the panels of substantial political activity, significant consulting work directly related to the policy development work of the Congress, and other significant financial interests.”

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The agency has been operating under a policy that says members or potential members of the agency’s advisory panels are asked not to share their expertise if their outside work conflicts with an issue they’re being consulted about at the CBO.

“If someone is known to have accepted a political appointment or joined a political campaign, he or she is generally asked to leave the panel or is not asked to serve on it while that activity is taking place and, depending on the nature of the activity, for some period afterwards," the current policy says.

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Just a few days ago, the Morning Consult reported the agency lacked a policy clarifying how conflicts of interest should be handled. 

The CBO has two panels of outside consultants consisting of three dozen people, most of whom are economists with Ph.D.s. Until the new policy was implemented, panelists were not required to inform the CBO about other projects they were working on.

Republicans have complained about the lack of transparency at the CBO, and some argue that’s one reason to replace its current director, Doug Elmendorf.

The decision about whether to keep on Elmendorf has not been made, even though his term expired in early January.

The chairmen of the House and Senate Budget committees, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) respectively, can recommend whether to keep or replace him. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate President Pro Tempore Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) are tasked with making the final decision.

— This story was updated at 2:52 p.m. to clarify that CBO is in the process of reviewing its policy.