POLITICS
02/22/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Obama's Ethics Policy Upsets Would-Be Staffers

The decision by Barack Obama to restrict lobbyists from working on the same subject in his administration for two years was greeted with nearly unanimous acclaim among the pundits in Washington D.C. If there is one thing that unites congressmen and good-government groups it is support -- at least rhetorical support -- for limiting special interests.

But not everyone was overcome with joy over the Executive Order. For Democratic operatives who have the word "lobbyist" on their resume, Obama's move was a dagger to their dreams of administration jobs.

"All Appointees Entering Government," the new rule reads, "will not for a period of 2 years from the date of [their] appointment participate in any particular matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to [their] former employer or former clients, including regulations and contracts."

The issue, ironically, may not matter as much for the most senior of prospective administration officials. Obama maintains the right to skirt the restrictions. For instance, his deputy defense secretary will be William Lynn, who has previously served as a representative for the defense contractor Raytheon. Rather, the individuals squeezed most tightly by the restrictions could end up being those lower on the political totem pole.

"Today, I received the news that I won't be working for an Obama administration," said a Democratic friend of mine, who was part of a briefing team for the president's transition efforts but happens to be a registered lobbyist.

By instituting the most transparent and open ethics policy of any presidential administration, Obama was bound to step on some toes. And he may have disadvantaged himself in certain ways. A high-ranking party operative told the Huffington Post back in December that he disagreed somewhat with the transition team's decision to restrict lobbyists from working on their areas of focus. He'd rather have the experts on staff.

"I understand not having a lobbyist for the NRA working for Obama," the went. "But I want someone who has spent their careers lobbying for stronger gun control laws formulating gun policy in the next White House."

For good government groups, this is a faulty hypothetical. The administration not only needed to make a clean break from special interests, they argue, but can easily fill its ranks with qualified individuals from outside the beltway.

"I think that stance assumes that lobbyists are the only free thinkers and knowledgeable thinkers in Washington that can help the government run better," said Scott Amey of the non-partisan public interest group, the Project On Government Oversight. "The ethics pledge that President Obama put out yesterday was only limiting lobbyists. And the one thing you have to remember is that lobbyists are representing clients that have financial interests at stake ... The Obama team has the waiver provision in there. If it determines that it is in the public interest, a lobbyist can still come and work for the administration. And there are certain times when those waivers may be more appropriate and reasonable than other cases."

POGO, in the end, did not think that such an exception should apply to Lynn, who has become the current face of Obama hypocrisy for the Republican National Committee.

Other watchdogs agreed.

"It appears to be a black-and-white case. I am unaware of what makes it so gray in the mind of President Obama," a former congressional budget staffer now with the Center for Defense Information told ABC News. "It certainly does not bode well for his effectiveness in the job," added Lawrence Korb, a military expert with the Center for American Progress.

But Gibbs justified the move in during Thursday's presser, making sure to reaffirm that the President is, at this point, setting a gold standard for White House ethics policy.

"We have experts who have studied the issue of transparency and ethics who have applauded the steps that the president took yesterday," he said, during his first press briefing. "That exceeds what any administration has previously done in this country. That's what the president pledged during the campaign and that is exactly what he did yesterday in signing these executive orders."

"Any standard is not perfect," he added. "A waiver process that allows people to serve their country is necessary."