The President believes that a piece of legislation as important as the Recovery Act must be implemented with an unprecedented degree of transparency. That is why, in March, he imposed substantial limits on lobbyists in their communications with the Federal government about the Recovery Act. He also ordered OMB to evaluate agencies’ actual experiences with the restrictions in the first 60 days and then recommend whether any modifications were needed. That review resulted in a decision to tighten the restrictions and, on Friday, OMB updated the formal guidance on Recovery Act communications with lobbyists.
We continue to demand unprecedented transparency for lobbyist contacts and, for the first time in history, we now are bringing transparency to the world of unregistered lobbyists – CEOs and others with special access who would contact an agency or department about their interest in Recovery funding. By expanding the restrictions on oral communications to apply to everybody who tries to exert influence on Recovery Act competitive funding decisions, we reinforce merit-based decision-making and transparency. Tough lines also need to be bright lines, so everyone can understand them. That’s why the updated approach focuses these restrictions on oral communications after formal applications for competitive funding have been filed and before the funds are awarded.
Contacts by registered lobbyists prior to the filing of a formal application remain subject to the previously announced restrictions, which require rapid Internet disclosure of the contact. These rules are by far the toughest ever and go well beyond the minimum disclosures previously required by law. To make that disclosure more consistent, the White House shortly will provide departments and agencies with a new technology tool – so that thorough reporting and information standards will be easily accessible for anyone to see.
Peter R. Orszag is Director of the Office of Management and Budget