Ethics Watch

By Dan Froomkin
12:24 PM ET, 03/13/2009

Eli Saslow writes in The Washington Post about a key White House staffer you'd never heard of before: Norm Eisen.

"Eisen is the White House ethics adviser, the guardian of Obama's integrity, and he is called for consultation every time the new administration has a question regarding more than 1,000 pages of government ethics rules and regulations."

He's the guy who gets "to deliver bad news to some of the most important people in the White House. While his official title is special counsel for ethics and government reform, Eisen is also known among colleagues by his nicknames: 'Mr. No' and 'The Fun Sponge.'....

"In one of his first assignments on the job, Eisen, who was a classmate of Obama's at Harvard Law School, helped craft an executive order that imposed the most far-reaching government ethics reform in decades, experts and historians said. But, for Eisen, the hard part is just beginning: He must ensure that the administration lives up to its own standards and adheres to its own rules. Since late January, when a few senior officials were hired despite having tax problems or lobbyist connections, Eisen has become more central to the vetting process for administration positions. He recommends who should and shouldn't be hired, reminding the Obama White House that its reputation is at stake.

"'Sometimes my job is to scare the bejesus out of everybody,' Eisen said. 'That's part of my function. That's what I do.'...

"'You're not going to understand all the rules. It's too complicated,' Eisen said. 'So you use your common sense. How's this going to look on the front page of The Washington Post?'"

Meanwhile, Jonathan Martin writes for Politico: "As he strives to build an administration beyond his top Cabinet officers, Obama is finding that he has limited his pool of potential appointees because of a ban on individuals from agencies that they have lobbied within the past two years.

"Some of the very people who would best serve in politically sensitive posts – interest group veterans, former campaign operatives or ex-Hill staffers – earn a living through lobbying.

"The policy has spurred frustration among some Democratic lobbyists, especially those who got behind Obama early in his hard-fought primary. They believe the president is depriving himself of an entire group of capable aides – at a time when Obama already is having trouble staffing up his Treasury Department and other key agencies."

© 2009 The Washington Post Company