Show an ad over header. AMP

I am the FIRST

Top Biden officials excused from ethics rules to work with major corporations

Top Biden officials have been excused from the ethics rules President Biden boasts about so they can do work involving large Wall Street banks, a leading defense contractor and prominent national media outlets, records show.

Driving the news: At least 16 Senate-confirmed officials have received waivers to ethics laws and regulations, according to an Axios review of their federal ethics paperwork.


  • Three were excused from portions of a widely publicized ethics pledge imposed by executive order on the day the president took office.
  • Thirteen got waivers to a federal regulation restricting work that could be perceived as a conflict of interest based on past professional relationships.

The details: NASA Administrator Bill Nelson was excused from rules that would have barred him from working with Lockheed Martin, for which he was a paid advisory board member.

  • Nelson assured ethics officials prior to his confirmation that he would only be participating in policy matters potentially affecting Lockheed, not any procurement or contracting decisions involving the company.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen's waiver doesn't concern work with any specific company but permits her to oversee policy affecting large financial institutions — some of which paid her hefty speaking fees.

  • The language of Biden's ethics pledge excludes past paid speeches and media appearances from the kind of financial arrangements that would restrict appointees' work. Yellen sought the waiver, she told ethics officials, "out of an abundance of caution."
  • She also told officials she would seek additional written authorization for work specifically affecting companies that paid her speaking fees.

The big picture: The waivers show how some officials are balancing previous professional work with their current policy portfolios. Many cover past public sector gigs, as well.

  • Six of the waivers permit officials‚ including Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra of California and EPA Administrator Michael Regan of North Carolina — to work with the state governments where they previously held senior posts.
  • Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack still draws payments directly from the agency he leads via a program that compensates landowners who agree not to farm environmentally sensitive land. The Iowan's waiver allows him to oversee that program.
  • CIA Ddrector William Burns is free to interact with the United Nations, where his wife works. Deputy secretary of Energy David Turk is allowed to work with the International Energy Agency, his former employer.
  • Four senior Biden officials got waivers allowing them to communicate with media outlets that paid or employed them or their spouses: Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, and senior State Department officials Wendy Sherman and Victoria Nuland.

Be smart: Most of the Biden administration ethics waivers are qualitatively distinct from those granted to top Trump officials, many of whom were permitted to work with companies and industries for which they'd just been lobbying.

  • Biden officials also have been largely forthcoming about the ethics carveouts they've sought.
  • Most of the waivers — including Yellen's and Nelson's — were flagged in pre-confirmation ethics paperwork.
  • Senators charged with reviewing and confirming the nominations were aware the officials would be seeking them.

What they're saying: "President Biden put in place the most stringent ethical standards of any administration in history," White House spokesperson Michael Gwin told Axios in an emailed statement.

  • "[H]e’s proud to have filled the senior ranks of his team with individuals who exceed those high standards and bring a wide range of experience — particularly in the public interest — that equip them to deliver for the American people.”

Why the startup world needs to ditch "unicorns" for "dragons"

When Aileen Lee originally coined the term "unicorn" in late 2013, she was describing the 39 "U.S.-based software companies started since 2003 and valued at over $1 billion by public or private market investors."

Flashback: It got redefined in early 2015 by yours truly and Erin Griffith, in a cover story for Fortune, as any privately-held startup valued at $1 billion or more. At the time, we counted 80 of them.

Keep reading... Show less

Scoop: Facebook's new moves to lower News Feed's political volume

Facebook plans to announce that it will de-emphasize political posts and current events content in the News Feed based on negative user feedback, Axios has learned. It also plans to expand tests to limit the amount of political content that people see in their News Feeds to more countries outside of the U.S.

Why it matters: The changes could reduce traffic to some news publishers, particularly companies that post a lot of political content.

Keep reading... Show less

Scoop: Amazon quietly getting into live audio business

Amazon is investing heavily in a new live audio feature that's similar to other live audio offerings like Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces and Spotify's new live audio platform, sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: As with Amazon's efforts in podcasting and music subscriptions, the company sees live audio as a way to bolster the types of content it can offer through its voice assistant, Alexa, and its smart speaker products.

Keep reading... Show less

Hurricane Ida exposes America's precarious energy infrastructure

The powerful hurricane that plunged New Orleans into darkness for what could be weeks is the latest sign that U.S. power systems are not ready for a warmer, more volatile world.

The big picture: “Our current infrastructure is not adequate when it comes to these kinds of weather extremes,” Joshua Rhodes, a University of Texas energy expert, tells Axios.

Keep reading... Show less

"We must go further": 70% of adults in European Union are fully vaccinated

About 70% of adults in the European Union are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said Tuesday.

Why it matters: The milestone makes the E.U. one of the world's leaders in inoculations, after an initially lagging vaccine campaign, the New York Times notes.

Keep reading... Show less

What Elizabeth Holmes jurors will be asked ahead of fraud trial

Jury selection begins today in USA v. Elizabeth Holmes, with the actual jury trial to get underway on Sept. 8.

Why it matters: Theranos was the biggest fraud in Silicon Valley history, putting both hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of patients' health at risk.

Keep reading... Show less

Insights

mail-copy

Get Goodhumans in your inbox

Most Read

More Stories