Watchdog Wades Through “The Swamp” with #SunshineWeek Ethics Waiver Report

Watchdog Wades Through “The Swamp” with #SunshineWeek Ethics Waiver Report

  • March 16, 2022

Biden Administration is on track to exceed the number of exemptions to ethics obligations granted during Trump years

Today, in honor of Sunshine Week, federal watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust announced the release of its Ethics Waiver Report. The report describes the organization’s sometimes frustrating efforts to track and reveal to the American public exemptions federal officials are granted to their ethics obligations.

More than nine months ago, PPT unveiled its Ethics Waiver Tracker webpage. Since that time, the watchdog has monitored government agency websites, dug for documents, and employed Freedom of Information Act requests to uncover the information needed to update the Tracker and bring sunshine to this corner of the ethics and transparency worlds. Even where government records indicate officials have received waivers and other exemptions, in many cases agencies have been loath to provide the documents that provide the extent, scope, and justifications for these decisions. They have sat on FOIA requests for extended periods of time, at times until after the documents are no longer valid.

While the Biden Administration came into office pledging to be “the most ethically vigorous administration in history,” PPT’s research reveals it may surpass its predecessor in the number of ethics waivers and impartiality decisions that exempt officials from certain provisions of federal ethics laws and the administration’s ethics pledge. Waivers granted during the current administration are also spread among many more agencies, where the most significant decisions of the federal government are typically made, than those during the Trump years.

“Few images embody D.C.’s reputation as ‘The Swamp’ more than the revolving door,” Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust, said. “One would think federal agencies would be anxious to clear the air regarding decisions involving waivers but Protect the Public’s Trust’s experience has not borne that out. While the current administration touts itself as the ‘most ethically vigorous administration in history,’ in some areas the revolving door seems to be spinning more quickly than ever. PPT will continue to update the Ethics Waiver Tracker as part of our effort to bring sunshine to ‘The Swamp.’