- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 21, 2009

President Obama on Wednesday froze the pay of White House officials making more than $100,000, imposed a gift ban on political appointees in his administration and issued an order changing lobbyists’ access to government jobs.

“Let me say it as clearly as I can: transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency,” he said, declaring “a new era of openness.”

He said the orders establish “firm rules of the road for my administration and all who serve in it.”

The executive order on ethics will signal “a clean break on business as usual,” Mr. Obama said at a brief signing ceremony before members of the senior staff were sworn in to their duties.

It will subject lobbyists to strict limits and will ban any gifts from lobbyists to members of the administration.

“If you are a lobbyist entering into my administration,” the president said, “you won’t be able to work” on matters of previous lobbying or in agencies that were lobbied toward for two years.

That’s a bit different from his campaign trail promise that lobbyists “will not work in my White House,” but he did offer a broader restriction on lobbyists than he previously pledged on the trail: “When you leave government, you won’t be able to lobby as long as I am president.”

He also announced a freeze to senior White House staff salaries over $100,000, thanking his aides for agreeing to it as a symbol of the importance of belt-tightening amid tough economic times.

“You inspire great confidence in me and the more the American people get to know you, the more you will inspire great confidence in the American people,” he said. “What a moment we’re in, what an opportunity we have to change this country. The American people are really counting on us now.”

Government employees must commit in writing to new rules limiting “any attempt to influence government colleagues,” Mr. Obama said, adding he was given the detailed ethics briefing on the new pledge last week.

The goal is to make sure no employees are acting for their own profit and that government is “truly by and for the people” and to “restore that faith in government to deliver changes we were sent here to make.”

“We should never forget we are here as public servants,” he said, and not for personal advancement or profit but “simply and absolutely about advancing the interests of Americans.” Mr. Obama said there is “too much secrecy in this city,” and that “era is now over,” and that he believes the Freedom of Information Act must be interpreted to be as open as possible.

“The mere fact you have the legal power to keep something secret does not mean you should,” he said, adding that he will hold himself to “a new standard of openness.” If the people want something disclosed and Mr. Obama wants it secret, he would have to consult with his attorney general Eric Holder and the White House counsel.

He signed the orders at 1:26 p.m., about 25 hours after become the 44th president.

Mr. Obama said at the inauguration Tuesday “You couldn’t help but be inspired by the sight of Americans as far as the eye can see.”

As he personally shook hands with the new executive branch employees, many of them loyal friends and aides from the campaign, Mr. Obama grinned.

He also teased incoming trip director Marvin Nicholson, telling him he should button his coat.

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