Former Federal Trade Officials:

Laws on Post-Employment Activities, Foreign Representation, and Lobbying

GAO-10-766: Published: Jun 23, 2010. Publicly Released: Jun 23, 2010.

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Congress has enacted laws to safeguard against former federal employees, including former trade officials, from using their access to influence government officials. These former officials' post-employment activities are restricted by a federal conflict of interest law, known as the "Revolving Door" law. Two other laws--the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) and the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA)--are disclosure statutes that do not prohibit any activities per se, but require individuals conducting certain representation activities to publicly disclose them. FARA and LDA are not specific to former federal officials; they apply to all individuals. GAO was asked to provide a summary of the Revolving Door law, FARA, and LDA. GAO reviewed these laws, as well as guidance from the Office of Government Ethics (OGE). GAO interviewed ethics officials at three agencies whose missions focus on trade--the United States Trade Representative (USTR), the International Trade Administration (ITA), and the International Trade Commission (USITC)--and collected data on the number of senior officials who separated from these agencies from 2004 through 2009. In addition, GAO interviewed Department of Justice (Justice) officials concerning enforcement of these laws. GAO makes no recommendations in this report.

Post-employment restrictions in the Revolving Door law, codified at 18 U.S.C. 207, prohibit some federal employees from engaging in certain activities, such as communicating with their former agency with the intent to influence government action, for a specified period of time after leaving federal service. The restrictions include a ban, for 1 year, on all former senior and very senior employees of federal agencies from representing, aiding, or advising a foreign government or political party with the intent to influence a government official, including the President, Vice President, and members of Congress. Level of pay and certain designated positions are used to categorize employees as "senior" or "very senior." A life-time ban on representing or advising foreign entities in this capacity applies to former U.S. Trade Representatives and Deputy Trade Representatives. In addition, all former federal employees who participated personally and substantially in an ongoing treaty negotiation are prohibited for 1 year from aiding any other person in that negotiation, if the employee had access to certain nonpublic information. Ethics officials at USTR, ITA, and USITC reported that they counsel current, as well as former, employees on post-employment restrictions. Justice officials said they viewed the Revolving Door law as being more useful as a preventative measure rather than a tool for prosecution; they believed that guidance from agency ethics officials deterred most violations. In contrast to post-employment restrictions specific to former government officials, FARA and LDA are disclosure laws that require all individuals, unless exempt, to publicly disclose certain foreign representation or lobbying activity. Individuals who act as agents of foreign governments or foreign political parties must register with Justice's Registration Unit. Individuals who conduct a certain amount of lobbying must register with the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives. Both FARA and LDA disclosure information is publicly available.

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