Friday, January 16, 2009

Obscure political appointment raises the questions about "conflict of interest" over public speech; more implications for "reputation defense"?


A K-street think tank and lobbying group (OMB Watch, referring to the Office of Management and Budget) published a piece about a an appointment to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), Jan. 13, 2009, called “Transition at OIRA: What Kind of Change?” The link is here.

Actually, it’s a little more complicated. On Jan. 7, 2009 President Bush extended the tenure of Susan Dudley, but what is at issue is a report, linked in the article, about President-elect Barack Obama’s intention to appoint Cass R. Sustein, a “prolific legal scholar” to the position. The author of the OMB watch piece believes that Mr. Sustein’s writings can make him an inappropriate choice for the position. For example, he reportedly raised questions about the constitutionality of the OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the Department of Labor).

I remember that early in the Clinton administration questions were raised about appointments based on their “writings” of Lani Guanier before her appointment as Assistant Attorney General. Of course, this all sounds reasonable when we’re talking about “political appointments.”

But, now we’re in the world of blogging and social networking sites where anyone can be a global publisher. Employers have to worry about the appropriateness of people in jobs, not just on obvious issues of “reputation,” but on the more subtle notion that clients might be distracted if they find out the employee’s views on things.

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