We have learned of an apparent conflict of interest for a senior Obama administration official already in hot water over questions about his communications with his former employer. Andrew Mclaughlin is the Deputy Chief Technology Officer for the Office of Science & Technology Policy at the White House. His prior job was as the top lobbyist for Google. President Obama made numerous promises about not having lobbyists in his administration.
Big Government previously reported that privacy flaws in Google Buzz’s social networking tool exposed McLaughlin’s Buzz account to the public. The analysis showed that McLaughlin’s Gmail included more than two dozen senior lobbyists and lawyers from Google with whom he is apparently still communicating. Following a consumer group’s FOIA request for all of McLaughlin’s communications with his former employer, his Google Buzz account was deleted.
Now we’ve learned that McLaughlin may be actively advocating on his former employer’s behalf in his position as Deputy CTO — a big no-no for government employees who are required to abide by rigorous conflict of interest policies. For reference here is the pertinent part of the ethics agreement former lobbyists sign and agree to abide by.
“2.Revolving Door Ban — All Appointees Entering Government. I will not for a period of 2 years from the date of my appointment participate in any particular matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to my former employer or former clients, including regulations and contracts.
“3.Revolving Door Ban — Lobbyists Entering Government. If I was a registered lobbyist within the 2 years before the date of my appointment, in addition to abiding by the limitations of paragraph 2, I will not for a period of 2 years after the date of my appointment:
(a)participate in any particular matter on which I lobbied within the 2 years before the date of my appointment;
(k)”Directly and substantially related to my former employer or former clients” shall mean matters in which the appointee’s former employer or a former client is a party or represents a party.
This past January when the earthquake hit Haiti, one aspect of the U.S. emergency response was to determine how to get some form of communications restored to the island as quickly as possible.
The National Communications System is an office within the Department of Homeland Security tasked with this type of mission. NCS convened a series of conference calls to determine the quickest way to reestablish communications to the earthquake-ravaged island. These calls included participants from Southern Command who were coordinating relief efforts as well as senior military and network engineers.
We’re told that Mr. Mclaughlin was a participant on these calls as well and that during one call began aggressively pitching the services of a company called Clearwire as a potential vendor who could handle the task of restoring Haiti’s communications.
This apparently raised eyebrows among the call participants, as the purpose of the call was to discuss the technical and logistical requirements for re-establishing communications as quickly as possible, not to pitch providers to handle the work. Call participants reportedly reacted by asking McLaughlin to clarify who he was and who he represented — thinly-veiled notices that his conduct out of line.
On a follow-up call, Mr. McLaughlin again put forth the idea of having Clearwire handle the emergency work in Haiti and this time put a Clearwire executive on the call to pitch his services directly. This reportedly provoked a response from a senior military official on the call who complained to the White House directly about McLaughlin’s inappropriate behavior. McLaughlin was not a participant on any subsequent calls.
Why is all of this interesting? Google, Mr. McLaughlin’s former employer, is one of the largest investors in Clearwire with a $500 million stake in the firm. That would appear to be “matters in which the appointee’s former employer or a former client is a party or represents a party.” and pitching them as a vendor would seem to be “including regulations and contracts.”
President Obama made a strong commitment to keep his administration free of lobbyist influence to avoid exactly this type of behavior. Clearwire may well have been the best choice for a vendor to take on the mission in Haiti, but Mr. Mclaughlin’s apparent lobbying efforts on Clearwire’s behalf are guaranteed to raise additional questions about which master McLaughlin is ultimately serving — the taxpayer or Google.