[Richard Painter, guest-blogging, March 24, 2009 at 12:07am] Trackbacks
Privatize the White House?

A number of you have suggested going in the opposite direction than I propose and have all White House employees be privately paid operatives of the President's political party, in essence to privatize the White House.

Some would say we are already there, with the exception that the government pays the salaries, including salaries for time people spend on partisan political work during normal working hours.

There is no escaping the fact that there is an enormous amount of private influence on our government. That is fine, as we have a First Amendment right to petition our government. The problem of course is that a very few people who pay for that right, with campaign contributions, contributions to other organizations that support political candidates, or lobbyists, get a lot more access than the rest of us. A few get into the Oval Office and for the rest, well . . . there is Lafayette Park.

My proposal is to shift White House employees other than the President and Vice President, and to shift senior political appointees in some other agencies, into the more restrictive Hatch Act rules that now apply to some specific agencies in intelligence and other fields. For those who do not agree with this approach, an alternative would be at least not to have White House employees in their "personal capacity" recruit other Administration officials for political work, in effect setting up an entire unofficial reporting structure that parallels the official. Partisan political activity in such an environment is hardly "personal" rather than official, and is in some respects not even voluntary.

We should also require that time records be kept and political activity be fully disclosed (see page 253 of my book). This should include political travel paid for by candidates and political parties. Presently, despite the detailed FEC reporting regime imposed on campaigns, it is very difficult for the public to find from the FEC much information about where any particular official (for example Rahm Emanuel or Karl Rove) traveled on a political party's or candidate's dime, how many trips there were and how much they cost (see page 259 of my book). Everyone, however, can find out if their neighbor gave over $200 to a federal candidate, to whom, when it was given and exactly how much. Something is wrong here. Excessive disclosure on the one hand discourages smaller donors, while the FEC web site tells us very little about how political activity is used to provide access to the people who matter.

Enough about government ethics and politics, my next post will be about work at the White House that involves . . . sex, drugs and rock and roll.

Randy R. (mail):
So the solution is ... more paperwork and more bureaucracy?

I can just see it now -- the endless fights over whether a certain form was filled out correctly or not.

And as we learned from Prop 8 in CA, it turns out that a lot of people really don't like it when their political contributions are made public.
3.24.2009 8:50am
"We should also require that time records be kept and political activity be fully disclosed . . . "

Not a bad idea for all government employees -- including professors at state-supported universities.
3.24.2009 8:52am
...the dramatic growth & insularity of the "White House" oligarchy is merely a symptom of the fundamental American government problem — severe centralized Potomac rule of 'united' 'states'. Unitary American executive rule is rapidly proceeding.

Re-arranging Executive Branch name-tags and bureaucratic reporting/payroll rosters is folly.

Current White House staffing broadly extends to over 10,000 persons with Billion$ in annual expenditures.
The true size of Executive Branch staff and budget are carefully concealed, even from Congress.
Thousands who actually work on that extended White House staff are already "detailed" from other federal departments and agencies... with true costs cleverly hidden in other budgets.

President Thomas Jefferson personally paid his staff ... consisting of one messenger and one secretary.
Not until 1857 did Congress appropriate money ($2,500) for the hiring of one clerk. President Ulysees S. Grant expanded the staff to three. By 1900, the White House staff included one secretary, two assistant secretaries, two executive clerks, a stenographer, and seven other office personnel. President Harding expanded his staff to thirty-one, mostly clerical. Herbert Hoover added two more secretaries... one designated as his 'press secretary'.

FDR muddled thru the Great Depression & WWII with a remarkably small staff... even his close "Brain Trust" of top advisers often "officially" worked in other agencies — since the White House lacked statutory/budgetary authority to create new staff positions. Things changed a lot after WWII.

....what exactly is the problem now with White House staffing (??)
3.24.2009 10:13am
Michael F. Martin (mail) (www):
These are good ideas. There's more than ethics at stake in making the executive branch more transparent.
3.24.2009 12:06pm

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