Charles S. Clark | May 2, 2017 | 0 Comments

Transparency Groups Protest White House Lack of Reporting on Staff Pay

In the latest clash over disclosure practices of the Trump administration, 10 ethics and transparency groups on Monday wrote congressional committee chairmen asking them to review what appears to be a White House decision to discontinue a mandatory personnel report on the salaries of White House staff.

The annual report, the group’s letter said, has been required by law since 1997, and has been used widely by scholars and think tank analysts. As many as 500 names were provided by the Obama administration on the website Open.WhiteHouse.gov.

But the Trump administration in April reportedly made the quiet decision to save money by incorporating such information into the broader White House website. A note on the current White House website says the salaries will be posted when available, but the activists, citing the Trump team announcement that it is no longer releasing logs of visitors to the White House, are skeptical that the new arrangement will constitute full disclosure.

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“The White House’s decision to terminate its open government website, jeopardizing public access to basic information about White House staff, undermines the transparency and accountability we expect of those who hold the highest offices,” said one signer, Daniel Schuman of Demand Progress. “Congress should act to prevent this administration from further backsliding on openness.”

The activist groups include the American Civil Liberties Union, the Campaign Legal Center, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the Project on Government Oversight, among others. They were joined by scholars Norm Ornstein and James Thurber and former Obama White House ethics officer Norm Eisen.

Citing use of past data by analysts at the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute studying issues such as gender pay and turnover, the letter asked Congress to pressure the Trump team to publish the salary data as a digital spreadsheet for ready analysis.

The Trump position on Open.WhiteHouse.gov is inferred from a statement that emerged in April when the White House announced it would discontinue the Obama practice of publishing visitors’ logs. First reported in Time magazine, what appears to be a memo is attributed to White House Communications Director Michael Dubke on April 14, 2017.

According to the groups’ letter, it reads: “The previous administration launched Open.WhiteHouse.gov, yet the site simply duplicates information available on government platforms such as Data.govAnaltyics.usa.gov, and Code.gov. Its contents will be incorporated on WhiteHouse.gov. This administration will not waste taxpayer dollars on duplicative sites. The White House will not renew a contract for the site which will save taxpayers over $70,000 by 2020.”

The Trump White House did not respond to Government Executive requests for comment. The letter, said Schuman, has been acknowledged by lawmakers with a promise look into the issue.

Another section of the still-evolving Trump White House website is labeled to deal with staff ethics waivers, though it so far contains no entries. In a separate development late last week, the Office of Government Ethics sent the White House and all agency heads a call for reporting by June 1 of all exceptions to ethics rules that have been granted to Trump appointees. 

Though past administrations have used waivers to attract political appointees with specialized talents to agency leadership posts, Trump to this point decided to keep his team’s waivers secret.

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