THE BLOG

Congress' Ludicrously Lax Employment Negotiation Rules

03/15/2011 07:31 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

On Friday, the chief of staff to the chairman of the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure left his post to lead the transportation lobbying practice at BGR Group. This is not only a perfect of example of why the revolving door is such a target of public disgust, but also an example of Congress' lax rules on post-employment negotiations.

House Rules covering employment negotiations for current congressmen and staff have no public element. While lawmakers and staff are required to report on employment negotiations to the Ethics Committee (we'll get to this in a minute), there is no requirement that the public be informed at all.

This is of little use to a public that sees the revolving door as a corrosive force on the legislative process.

While the rules do provide for disclosure to the Ethics Committee, they provide ludicrous options on when an individual has to report. Here are the rules as written:

1. A Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner shall not directly negotiate or have any agreement of future employment or compensation unless such Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner, within 3 business days after the commencement of such negotiation or agreement of future employment or compensation, files with the Committee on Ethics a statement, which must be signed by the Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner, regarding such negotiations or agreement, including the name of the private entity or entities involved in such negotiations or agreement, and the date such negotiations or agreement commenced.

2. An officer or an employee of the House earning in excess of 75 percent of the salary paid to a Member shall notify the Committee on Ethics that such individual is negotiating or has any agreement of future employment or compensation.

3. The disclosure and notification under this rule shall be made within 3 business days after the commencement of such negotiation or agreement of future employment or compensation.

4. A Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner, and an officer or employee to whom this rule applies, shall recuse himself or herself from any matter in which there is a conflict of interest or an appearance of a conflict for that Member, Delegate, Resident Commissioner, officer, or employee under this rule and shall notify the Committee on Ethics of such recusal. A Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner making such recusal shall, upon such recusal, submit to the Clerk for public disclosure the statement of disclosure under clause 1 with respect to which the recusal was made.

As you can see by the portions that I've bolded, the individual engaged in employment negotiations has three choices of when to inform the Ethics Committee: upon the commencement of negotiations, upon accepting the new job, or upon receiving compensation from the new job. This an unbelievably wide-open array of options. Under these rules, a lawmaker or covered staffer may elect to disclose their employment negotiations after they have already negotiated, left Congress, and received a paycheck! Why even have these rules to begin with?

Further, section 4 of the above quoted rules requires public disclosure of recusals by lawmakers -- staffers are excluded from disclosure under this section -- from official business where a conflict of interest, or appearance thereof, from employment negotiations may occur. This also comes with the wide-open options for the timeliness of disclosure as stated above. Compounding the disclosure problems here, recusals are supposed to be made publicly available, but the Clerk of the House does not post them to their website.