WASHINGTON — There’s no sign of foot-dragging at the Office of Government Ethics despite President Donald Trump’s complaint that it has “become very difficult to deal with” as he tries to fill vacancies on his team.
It’s actually moving faster on Trump’s nominations than it did under President Barack Obama, data from the office show.
Trump voiced his complaint at a portion of a Cabinet meeting that was opened to news coverage this week.
The ethics office director says there’s no holdup at his end. “OGE is not the cause of any delays,” Walter Shaub said. “We’re moving nominee reports faster during this transition than we did during the last transition, but we can’t review reports the White House hasn’t sent to us.”
Ethics office data show it is giving guidance on nominees in an average of 26 days, compared with 32 days in Obama’s first year.
That quicker pace comes even though the Trump appointees have generally had more complex financial entanglements and potential conflicts of interest than those under Obama.
The slowness, the data suggest, is on Trump’s end.
As of June 9, the Trump administration had forwarded 331 nominees for ethics vetting, compared with 483 nominees in the same period under Obama, the numbers show.
The ethics office said Trump originally took an unusual approach to picking his nominees — one that did not loop in the ethics office for vetting until after the employees were announced. The office flagged the dangers in that practice in a letter to the incoming president’s transition team in November.
Making announcements before the ethics process led to some embarrassing departures when a few Trump picks could not adequately resolve their conflicts of interest.
Among them was Todd Ricketts, son of the billionaire TD Ameritrade founder, who had been tapped as deputy commerce secretary. Ricketts chose to bow out of the position rather than divest enough of his financial interests to rid himself of conflicts of interest.
By April, the Trump administration adopted the traditional process of waiting until the ethics office had finished its work before announcing picks.
Trump’s dig at the office is the latest volley in a long-running tussle between government ethics workers and Trump’s lawyers and White House aides.
In late April, the ethics office demanded information from the White House and other executive-branch agencies about what, if any, waivers they had granted to lobbyists and other top officials who are working on government matters similar to what they’d handled in the private sector.
The administration initially said it needed more time to comply — and questioned the office’s authority to make the request in the first place. But in the end, all of the federal agencies turned over the waiver information at the beginning of this month as the ethics officials had requested.
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