Statement by Assistant to the President for Press Relations Fitzwater on the Veto of a Bill Concerning Post-Employment Restrictions


November 23, 1988


Public service is a public trust. It requires a high and exacting standard of conduct, and we should have laws that ensure this standard of conduct is always met. These laws should be fair, impartial, easily understood, and should not erect barriers to public service. The hallmark of our democracy is a government that serves the people, and our citizens deserve the most talented and dedicated public officials that are available. They also deserve public servants who do not misuse their positions. We support laws that protect and encourage a high-caliber government work force at all levels and does so in a fair and equitable manner.


The President calls on the new Congress and the President-elect to consider a fair and effective law that strengthens existing statutes without the inequities of the Post-Employment Restrictions Act. While there are some good provisions in this bill, and even though it would not apply to President Reagan and this administration, the President will withhold his approval of H.R. 5043. The President recognizes that this disapproval may not be good politics, but it is good government. However well-intentioned, this bill would seriously impair the Government's ability to recruit and retain skilled, experienced personnel. It would add a new layer of complexity, making it even more difficult for honest government employees to understand the restrictions on them.


While this bill includes the first attempt to extend ethics statutes to include the Congress, it is not enough. It still perpetuates a double standard in the treatment of executive branch personnel versus Members of Congress and staff. Ironically, a major failing of this bill is that it weakens current law by applying only to lobbying activities that result in compensation. The Attorney General and the Office of Government Ethics recommended a veto of this bill for the above reason. In addition, no member of the Cabinet recommended approval. No one in administration recommended approval.


The arguments for disapproval are many and varied. Just one example: Current law generally bars contact for 1 year with anyone in the Agency where you worked. The new law would bar contact by most White House staff and Executive Levels I and II Agency personnel with any executive in government -- I repeat, any executive in government. The result must be obvious. Instead of extending a welcome hand to talented people to spend time in the Government, this provision says: Warning, government service may be hazardous to your career. It's a warning that can only lead to a government that never feels the invigorating influence of new blood. The incentive is to leave government, not to join it. And that defies the principle of government of, by, and for the people.