Watchdogs Mourn Loss Of White House Ethics Czar
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But as NPR's Ari Shapiro reports, some watchdog groups are not happy with the White House decision to forego hiring a new ethics czar.
ARI SHAPIRO: People who have spent decades pushing for ethics and transparency in government talk about Norm Eisen's tenure as ethics czar as a kind of Camelot moment.
DANIELLE BRIAN: It was a dream come true.
GARY BASS: He's performed in almost a superhuman fashion.
FRED WERTHEIMER: Norm Eisen has done a phenomenal job handling ethics and campaign finance and transparency.
MELANIE SLOAN: He has really pushed these issues in a way nobody else in the White House Counsel's Office has, certainly, in the past 20 years. And I think no other administration has.
SHAPIRO: That was Danielle Brian of the Project on Government Oversight, Gary Bass of OMB Watch, Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21 and Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington - all mourning the departure of the first and possibly the last ethics czar.
BEN LABOLT: There's no cause for concern here.
SHAPIRO: Ben LaBolt is a White House spokesman.
LABOLT: Bob Bauer, as White House counsel, will assume the lead on ethics and government reform.
SHAPIRO: Nonetheless, Eileen Miller(ph) of the Sunlight Foundation fears that this is a step backward.
ELLEN MILLER: Because we have had for 18 months a designated individual who has been focused solely on these issues. And now, we have an individual who has hundreds of other hugely important issues in his portfolio, and this is just going to be one of them.
SHAPIRO: But Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute argues that the way the boxes are arranged is not what's important.
NORM ORNSTEIN: All of this rests not on whether you have a Norm Eisen or an ethics czar or somebody else in a particular position. What it really rests on is the degree to which the president of the United States decides that this is something that's important to him.
SHAPIRO: And White House spokesman Ben LaBolt says anyone who wants to know whether the president is committed to these issues should look at Barack Obama's history in public office.
LABOLT: His record should offer assurances that these issues will remain at the top of his agenda.
BRIAN: That's Danielle Brian. She runs the Project on Government Oversight.
BRIAN: But one of the things that I've learned during his term in office, as president, is sometimes that isn't enough. It isn't enough for him to say I really care about these issues. He needs to have the people who are continuing to push those agencies - particularly, for example, in the intelligence community - that really aren't as embracing of openness and transparency.
SHAPIRO: All of this nail-biting amounts to fear of the unknown, says Fred Wertheimer of Democracy 21.
WERTHEIMER: I believe we are in a position to have a very satisfactory transition. I think we all know that in the end this will be judged by results, not by the speculation that's taking place now.
SHAPIRO: Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.
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