President Obama just signed executive orders prohibiting any of his current and future administration officials from leaving office and then turning around to lobby the administration on the issues of his or her expertise. This ban is in place not for two years, not for four years. It is in place for the full length of Obama's term in the White House. In a statement, Fred Wertheimer, president of good government advocacy group Democracy 21, called the move "the toughest and most far reaching revolving door provisions ever adopted." (For the full slate of new ethics rules, click here. For Wertheimer's full statement, which is almost gleeful, click here.)
Asked for comment, John Wonderlich of the Sunlight Foundation said that while he's waiting to see the details, "today's announcement is a significant shift in the executive branch's stance toward being held accountable to the public it serves." He called the move "very encouraging."
And it's not just encouraging for open government reasons. It's also smart politically. If you create a culture where industry shills can't run or work in Interior, the FDA, the EPA, and other federal agencies, you're left with a pool of civic-minded people who care about reform, regulation, and the environment to choose from when making appointments. It will be tough, one would assume, for a Republican president to change that culture in eight years. I think it makes the bureaucracy, on balance, less corporate and more progressive.
President Bush didn't just let former lobbyists work in his administration. He let them run entire departments. And he let current lobbyists make policy. That era is over. Decisively.