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White House waives ethics rules for first Biden official

February 20, 2021

The Biden administration has waived ethics rules to allow a top Department of Homeland Security official to make policy in areas on which she lobbied for her former employer, Amnesty International.

Why it matters: The waiver is the first granted under Biden’s new ethics pledge, which allows the White House to shelve restrictions on former lobbyists in the administration if doing so is deemed in the national interest.


What’s new: A memo from the White House Office of Management and Budget, dated Feb. 9 and released publicly on Friday, spelled out the rationale for waiving those rules for Charanya Krishnaswami, the senior counselor to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

  • The waiver applied to the portion of Biden’s ethics pledge governing former lobbyists’ work on specific policy issues. Krishnaswami will still be barred from participating in matters that could financially impact Amnesty itself.
  • “Without this waiver, the adjustments that would be necessary to maintain Ms. Krishnaswami’s recusal are anticipated to result in serious limitations and inefficiencies in the Department,” acting OMB director Robert Fairweather wrote.

Background: Krishnaswami was a registered lobbyist for Amnesty prior to joining the administration.

  • She directed the organization’s advocacy programs for the Americas, and, along with a team of in-house lobbyists, reported working on numerous federal policy issues and pieces of legislation.
  • Under the terms of Biden’s ethics pledge, Krishnaswami would normally be barred from participating in any policymaking decisions relating to issues on which she’d lobbied, making a host of policy areas in DHS’s portfolio effectively off-limits.
  • “Here, these factors demonstrate that it is in the public interest to grant a limited waiver to Ms. Krishnaswami,” Fairweather wrote.

Between the lines: The language of Biden’s ethics pledge suggested that waiver requests will be given more weight for officials who worked for nonprofits than other private sector enterprises.

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