Biden admin pressures career officials to approve appointee ethics waivers: watchdog report

The Biden administration is on track to surpass the number of ethics waivers granted by the Trump White House

Published: August 29, 2022 2:34pm

Updated: August 29, 2022 3:48pm

At least 65 ethics waivers have been issued to administration officials during President Joe Biden's first 18 months in office, putting "significant pressure" on career executive branch ethics officials to approve waivers for activists-turned-appointees, according to a watchdog report from Protect the Public's Trust. 

The Biden administration is on track to surpass the number of waivers granted by the Trump White House, which issued 73 ethics waivers during the first 33 months of the administration.

Most ethics waivers are granted by career ethics officials. Protect the Public's Trust stated in its report Thursday that "the Biden Administration has often forced these career officials into difficult situations by loading up important positions with activists and lobbyists whose potential conflicts and covered relationships make it nearly impossible to function in their roles without a waiver."

For example, a Freedom of Information Act request showed that National Highway Traffic Safety Administration head Dr. Steven Cliff received a waiver to participate in matters involving not only his former employer, the California Air Resources Board, but also on issues he was greatly involved in during his time working there. Officials justified his waiver because denying it would "substantially limit" the federal departments from pursuing the White House's agenda.

The watchdog said waivers for activists in the administration are "the rule, not the exception," and alleged, "More likely they were appointed because of their past activism, knowing that waivers would be required for them to perform their roles."

Many more ethics waivers may be unknown as Protect the Public's Trust said it has more than two dozen open Freedom of Information Act requests and active lawsuits on the matter. 

"But many of the waivers we are seeing – mostly after suing the agencies to hand them over – are quite concerning. Not only are they approaching record numbers, the justifications can be quite circular," Protect the Public's Trust Director Michael Chamberlain said.

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