Barack Obama promised to bring change to Washington if elected president. Greater transparency was a major pledge he repeated across the country from the campaign trail. Mr. Obama vowed to end backroom deals and to open up important negotiations to C-SPAN, allowing voters to see live on TV how government operates with special-interest groups. Most of these commitments were abandoned after Mr. Obama took the oath of office.
Two of the most glaring examples are ethics rules that apply to political appointees who have been lobbyists and the practice of awarding federal contracts without competitive bidding. In both cases, the actual behavior of President Obama stands in stark contrast to the idealistic pronouncements of candidate Obama.
On Friday, the Obama administration announced that White House Counsel Bob Bauer wouldn’t be bound by ethics rules established by Mr. Obama to prohibit his appointees from working on issues affecting their former clients. This ban was supposed to be in effect for two years after someone entered public service. Apparently, ethics rules are important until they get in the way.
The same goes for regulations on government contracts. In the past, Democratic and Republican administrations issued some contracts without competitive bidding for speed and to save money. When seeking the highest office in the land, Mr. Obama explicitly stated that he would not tolerate such practices. “I will finally end the abuse of no-bid contracts once and for all,” he thundered to a Grand Rapids, Mich., audience on Oct. 2, 2008. “The days of sweetheart deals for Halliburton will be over when I’m in the White House.” After becoming president, Mr. Obama continued the attack and promised on March 4 to “end unnecessary no-bid and cost-plus contracts. … In some cases, contracts are awarded without competition. … And that’s completely unacceptable.”
That was then; this is now. Last week, the Army revealed that KBR, a former subsidiary of Halliburton, was awarded a no-bid contract worth as much as $568 million through next year. This deal was announced only hours after the Obama Justice Department informed the public that it was joining a suit filed by whistleblowers who allege KBR used kickbacks to get foreign contracts.
This isn’t the first time the O Force broke its pledge against no-bid contracts. On Jan. 4, Checchi & Company Consulting, a Washington-based firmed owned by Democratic donor Vincent V. Checchi, was awarded a no-bid contract of more than $24 million to train lawyers and judges in Afghanistan.
Some no-bid contracts may be necessary for efficiency’s sake, and frequently the best nominees are those whose government service is bolstered by previous related work in the private sector. It’s Mr. Obama’s hypocrisy that’s galling more than the practice.