Friday, January 23, 2009

President Obama‘s nominee for the No. 2 spot at the Pentagon hit an unexpected bump in the road to confirmation Thursday after officials said he would need a waiver from the administration’s strict new ethics rules.

William J. Lynn, the president’s pick to be deputy to Bush holdover Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, was a lobbyist for giant arms contractor Raytheon last year. That post would normally prohibit him, under Mr. Obama’s first executive order Wednesday, from taking a job in the government for two years.

Mr. Lynn, who was in charge of the Pentagon’s notoriously chaotic finances under President Clinton, was “uniquely qualified” to do the job, Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters, and would be issued one of “a very limited number of waivers” from the new rules.

“Even the toughest rules require reasonable exceptions,” Mr. Gibbs said.

Mr. Gates said at a Pentagon briefing that the issue of Mr. Lynn’s work as a lobbyist had been flagged early in the process.

“People in the transition certainly recognized that it was an issue,” he said. “I was very impressed with his credentials. … And I asked that an exception be made [to the ban on lobbyists serving in the administration], because I felt that he could play the role of deputy in a better manner than anybody else that I saw.”

But the news meant his nomination would be delayed, said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat.

The committee “will need further information before proceeding with the nomination,” Mr. Levin said in a statement, adding it would “await the administration’s assessment as to … whether a waiver will be forthcoming and what the scope of the waiver will be.”

Government ethics watchdogs said they were disappointed.

“It takes most of the air out of his announcements … if you are going to riddle them with waivers and recusal statement,” said Scott Amey, general counsel of the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight.

The group called for Mr. Lynn’s nomination to be withdrawn. “If he wants his message [on ending the revolving door between lobbying and government] to be clear … there are other people he can turn to,” Mr. Amey said.

Administration officials nonetheless appeared confident that Mr. Lynn’s nomination would proceed, saying they were working with Mr. Levin’s staff to get them the information he wanted.

Even Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat, who questioned Mr. Lynn closely at his confirmation hearing about his role as a lobbyist and the revolving door, said through a spokesman that she would not oppose the nomination.

Wednesday’s executive order states that White House Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orzag may issue waivers for current or former appointees if he certifies in writing that it is in the public interest to do so.

“The public interest shall include, but not be limited to, exigent circumstances relating to national security or to the economy,” the order states.

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