Public Servants Shouldn't Cash In: CLC Files USTR Complaint

Issues
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Robert Lighthizer sitting at a desk in front of a microphone
United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer speaks at a US Senate Finance Committee hearing at Capitol Hill in Washington DC on June 17th, 2020. Lighthizer told lawmakers he was "troubled" by reports that that two employees violated the Standards of Conduct. Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Pool via CNP

Although violations of ethics laws and norms by members of the Trump administration capture headlines, this behavior is trickling down without much notice to career public servants in the White House. 

Today, Campaign Legal Center (CLC) filed a complaint with the United States Trade Representative (USTR) in the Executive Office of the President against two employees who wrote new trade rules for the auto industry and then offered members of the industry their paid consulting services for complying with the new rules while still employed at USTR. 

Jason Bernstein and Fred Fischer, who served as lead negotiators for the parts sourcing provision of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which profoundly impacts the auto industry, reached out to auto companies announcing their new company and offering their expertise on the trade deal. 

The CLC complaint argues that in doing so, Bernstein and Fischer violated the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch. In addition, even after leaving USTR, their advertised services will possibly violate post-employment restrictions.

All government employees, from the career public servants of federal agencies to the highest ranked White House officials, must be held accountable for advancing their own financial interests at the expense of the public trust.

As described in the mission statement of the Office of Government Ethics, “[w]hen government decisions are made free from conflicts of interest, the public can have greater confidence in the integrity of executive branch programs and operations.”

Enforcement of federal ethics rules and regulations are crucial to rebuild public trust in government.

Researcher for CLC's Money in Politics & Ethics teams
Kedric is CLC's General Counsel and Senior Director of Ethics