Obama's No. 2 at Pentagon Gets an “Ethics Waiver”

A former Raytheon lobbyist nominated to be deputy defense secretary despite President Barack Obama's ban on hiring lobbyists will sell his stock in the military contracting firm he represented, the Pentagon said Friday.

However, William J. Lynn won't be forced to step back from decisions related to his former employer.

Instead, Lynn's dealings at the Defense Department will be subject to ethics reviews for one year, said Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell.

The move ended around an executive order that the president signed Jan. 20. His "revolving door" ban, part of Obama's "ethics commitments," ordered officials who had been lobbyists for up to two years prior to their hiring to recuse themselves from decisions involving their former employers.

Sen. John McCain said Friday that the decision to issue a waiver for Obama's nominee as no. 2 at the Pentagon was "disappointing."

"While I applaud the president's action to implement new, more stringent ethical rules, I had hoped he would not find it necessary to waive them so soon," he said.

Under the ban, former lobbyists could not "participate in any particular matter" they had been involved in as a lobbyist or "participate in the specific issue area in which that particular matter falls."

But Lynn avoided a total recusal under the decision announced by Pentagon officials Friday.

On Thursday, the administration delivered to the Senate Armed Services Committee a waiver to Obama's "ethics pledge" for federal employees, exempting Lynn from two specific sections: a two-year prohibition on employees from participating in decisions related to their former employers and a more specific section banning individuals from taking jobs in the agencies they recently lobbied.

"I understand that Mr. Lynn will otherwise comply with the remainder of the pledge and with all pre-existing government ethics rules," the waiver states.

The move seemed to satisfy Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the Democratic chairman of the Armed Services Committee, who said he would support the nomination.

But Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he won't endorse Lynn until more details are provided.

"Before I can determine whether to support his nomination as deputy secretary of defense, I intend to ask him to clarify for the record what matters and decisions will require his recusal," McCain said in a statement.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who requested Lynn as his deputy, did not want Lynn to have to recuse himself outright from all decisions involving Raytheon because it would severely limit his ability to do his job, Morrell said.

Raytheon is one of the military's top contractors, doing $18.3 billion in U.S. government business in 2007.

As a lobbyist, Lynn worked on matters with far reach across the Pentagon, including contracting policy, the military's use of space, missile defense, munitions and artillery, sensors and radars and advanced technology programs.

"There's too much to do in that office if you have one hand tied behind your back," said Morrell, the Pentagon spokesman.

Senate action on Lynn's nomination slowed this week after lawmakers realized he might require an exemption from the administration's own ethics rules. Shortly after taking office, President Barack Obama issued ethics requirements prohibiting individuals from working for government agencies they have lobbied in the past two years.

A statement issued by the Democratic staff on the Armed Services Committee said the arrangement met their requirements.

The panel "will continue to insist that Mr. Lynn comply with a strict set of ethics rules that we apply to all nominees, including the requirement to recuse himself, for a period of one year, from any decisions involving his prior employer, unless specifically authorized to participate by an appropriate ethics official," Levin said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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