The executive branch’s Office of Government Ethics is trying to find out which of the many former lobbyists hired by the Trump administration may currently be working on issues on which they previously lobbied. However, the White House is delaying that inquiry, claiming the head of OGE may not have legal authority to make this request.
One of President Trump’s first executive orders states that if the administration hires a former lobbyist, that person can’t work on anything directly related to their lobbying until at least two years have passed.
The administration can issue waivers to this prohibition, allowing the former lobbyists to jump right into working directly on issues they’d been involved with in their previous job. The Obama administration granted such waivers, but made them available to both OGE and the public. The Trump White House has not yet disclosed which of its ex-lobbyist staffers were granted waivers.
On April 28, OGE Director Walter Shaub sent a letter [PDF] requesting copies of these waivers from the White House and from all federal agencies. Shaub requested this information be turned over to OGE by June 1.
In that letter, Mulvaney calls for Shaub to stay his request while the White House researches whether or not OGE has the authority to make this inquiry.
As the Times points out, the Mulvaney memo is not just questioning Shaub’s ability to request these documents from the White House, but from the entire executive branch, even though federal regulations give OGE the authority to conduct “reviews of agency ethics programs in order to ensure their compliance with program requirements and to ensure their effectiveness in advancing the mission of the executive branch-wide ethics program.”
However, the law does not give OGE any real ability to enforce non-compliance with this request, at least not without the assistance of the White House, which does not seem eager to comply.
In a statement to the Times, the White House labeled Shaub’s request as a political maneuver that was overreaching. However, former White House officials from the previous two administrations both tell the Times that they have never heard of a President attempting to block this sort of OGE request.
“It challenges the very authority of the director of the agency and his ability to carry out the functions of the office,” former White House counsel and one-time acting director at OGE tells the Times.