Many Important Administration Jobs Go Unfilled Because Of New Ethics Code

I wondered at the time the new Obama hiring rules were announced if that was possible in a company town like D.C., and it looks like it isn't. While i

I wondered at the time the new Obama hiring rules were announced if that was possible in a company town like D.C., and it looks like it isn't. While it's a valiant effort, it's just not practical if it cuts some of the most talented and experienced people out of the running. And, as the examples in this Gloria Borger column show, in some cases, it's just plain silly:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Tim Geithner may be the latest political piñata in Washington these days, but -- policy aside -- there may be another reason he is the one fellow everyone is picking on at Treasury: He's there alone. President Obama's ethics code requires that no lobbyist can work for an agency he may have lobbied.

Believe it or not, Geithner is the only confirmed official at his department. Some top nominees, even those who have served in government before, have decided to withdraw. Others are still pending as they go through arduous background checks that one pro-Obama Democrat calls "maddening vetting hell."

Sure, this is about extensive scrutiny to make sure no one has a tax problem after Geithner's own embarrassing unpaid tax bill. But the staffing problem is not just at Treasury, and it goes way beyond the time-consuming nature of extensive background checks.

It's also about overreaching anti-lobbyist rules.

Consider Tom Malinowski. He's the advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, an expert on genocide and torture. But when it came time for a top human rights job at the State Department, he was turned away.

Why? "Because he lobbied against torture," says one incredulous administration official. "It's crazy."

But the rules are the rules: The ethics code requires that no lobbyist can be hired to work for an agency he may have lobbied.

So, just to clarify: Someone like Malinowski who lobbied against torture and is a widely acknowledged expert on international human rights law is, er, blackballed. More to the point, he was shown the door precisely because he tried to influence Congress on an issue that both he and the administration agree, and care deeply about. (Malinowski won't comment.)

Only in the Alice-in-Wonderland world of Washington would this make any sense. And it still doesn't. It's just a prime instance of the problems that can arise when great-sounding (theoretical) campaign one-liners rub up against the (real) difficulties of trying to staff a government. In other words, the short-term interest in demonizing all lobbyists has led to some very difficult staffing problems.

So, if you're an environmental expert and lobbyist, forget about the Environmental Protection Agency. But you might want to think about some work in the health field.

About Susie Madrak

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