Norm Eisen, who has been a thorn in the flesh of some Washington lobbyists, is heading to Prague as President Obama’s ambassador to the European nation. The administration’s “ethics portfolio” will be split, with the White House Counsel, Robert Bauer, taking the lead.
According to the Washington Post, “responsibilities for lobbying, transparency, government reform and a host of other government operations issues” will be transferred to the former head of Perkins Coie’s political law practice. Bauer has served as President Obama’s personal attorney, as well as holding positions at Obama for America and the Democratic National Committee.
Steven P. Croley, a law professor at the University of Michigan, will head a six-member legal team to cover ethics, government reform, whistle-blower protections, lobbying reform, and other issues.
Several groups have pointed to this as a “step back” for the administration, which started out with a strong emphasis on ethics. The Sunlight Foundation wrote that “instead of having single touch point within the Administration we will now be working with one person who already has more than a full-time job, and an academic with no government experience.”
And Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (which Eisen co-founded), was also not enthusiastic. “In our view, taking the full-time responsibilities of a high-level White House official and divvying them up suggests ethics, transparency and government reform will get substantially less attention, not more.” But others see this as a potential for good – Fred Wertheimer, who heads Democracy 21, said in the New York Times that “I hate to see Eisen leave because he’s done a phenomenal job … but I believe the pieces are there to continue with the commitment this administration has said it would make in this area.”