- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 21, 2009

President Obama is subjecting lobbyists to strict restrictions when it comes to communicating with his administration about the $787 billion economic stimulus plan.

The president said Friday that transparency will be key to ensuring the money is spent properly, and he also said agencies are crafting guidelines for how the money can be spent. The No. 1 requirement, he said: Projects must create jobs.

“It is not intended to fund projects for special interests,” Mr. Obama wrote in a presidential memorandum.

The memorandum states that executive departments and agencies may not consider the views of a lobbyist unless the views are submitted in writing, and that any conversations or meetings between the administration and lobbyists must be summarized and posted at Recovery.gov.

Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for watchdog group Public Citizen, said he was surprised and pleased by the precautionary measure, especially since he has been critical of how the Troubled Assets Relief Program has been implemented.

“It’s refreshing. We’re going to have some pretty good disclosure on how the stimulus package is doled out,” Mr. Holman said. “This is brand new; we’ve never seen an administration try to take these type of cautions before.”

Mr. Holman said the move subjects the lobbyists to the same restrictions placed on them by the congressional ethics measure Mr. Obama helped to write when he was a senator.

“It’s actually even better because it identifies all lobbyist contacts in writing or in person,” he said, adding the restrictions are “very doable and enforceable.”

The president also detailed new directives outlining guidelines on acceptable ways to spend stimulus money in states and localities - and said projects that don’t create jobs won’t get the money.

“This plan cannot and will not be an excuse for waste and abuse,” Mr. Obama said in remarks Friday to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“Whenever a project comes up for review, we will ask a simple question: Does it advance the core mission of the Recovery Act? Does it jump-start job creation? Does it lay the foundation for lasting prosperity? … With a plan of such size comes an obligation to be vigilant with every dime we spend.”

Mr. Obama said the directives are “guidelines that will help ensure that we are proving ourselves worthy of the great trust the American people have placed in us.” He said that while he supports dog parks, funding for things such as that is forbidden.

“That is not how we will jump-start job creation, and that is not how we will put our economy on a firmer footing for the future,” he said.

He offered an example of his own - saying a “long overdue” project to modernize the old electrical and heating systems in the White House East Wing requested from the stimulus plan will not be funded under the measure because it doesn’t meet the standards of creating jobs.

He said he hopes Congress funds it independently in the future.

The group applauded Mr. Obama’s announcement of the lobbying disclosures.

“Any lobbyists who want to talk with a member of my administration about a particular Recovery Act project will have to submit their thoughts in writing, and we will post it on the Internet for all to see,” he said. “If any member of my administration does meet with a lobbyist about a Recovery Act project, every American will be able to go online and see what the meeting was about. These are unprecedented restrictions that will help ensure that lobbyists do not stand in the way of our recovery.”

The White House did not allow reporters to hear the question-and-answer part of the event.

Casting the stimulus and his budget blueprint as “unprecedented steps,” the president repeated his aim to cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term, without mentioning a new Congressional Budget Office estimate that the deficit will reach $1.85 trillion this fiscal year.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said the administration has a plan to “actually call out” bad stimulus choices, and “we intend to make sure the actual spirit of the law is what is followed.”

The president said the U.S. Conference of Mayors has agreed to join the effort.

“There is little room for error here, especially in a time of crisis,” Mr. Obama said.

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