Deputy Web Chief Andrew McLaughlin was scolded for consulting
with former colleagues at Google.
The White House has reprimanded one of its top Web chiefs for
violating ethics rules and inappropriately consulting with his former
colleagues at Google.
McLaughlin used his personal Gmail
address to communicate with former Google colleagues about key
technology issues confronting the administration and the Internet search
giant, including net neutrality and Web privacy, according to Consumer
Watchdog, which obtained e-mails sent by McLaughlin through a Freedom of
Information Act (FOIA) request.
Office of Science and
Technology Policy Director John Holdren consequently reprimanded
McLaughlin last week, according to a spokesman for the office.
However, OSTP’s Rick Weiss added no
additional action was necessary, given that McLaughlin’s communications
were "incidental" and had "no influence on policy decisions within the
Specifically, the deputy web chief’s
conversations over Gmail defied an ethics pledge instituted by President
Barack Obama and
signed by McLaughlin following his Senate confirmation, which prohibits
new White House employees from
directly engaging their former employers and clients for at least two
McLaughlin also infringed on rules
that require White House employees to conduct all official business
using only their federal e-mail accounts, primarily to ensure the
messages are properly archived. The spokesman added that McLaughlin has
since archived the "limited
number" of personal e-mails he sent to Google staffers by e-mailing the
to his White House inbox.
"Andrew regrets these violations and
has taken steps to ensure they do not occur again, including an in-depth
review of the Pledge and Federal ethics laws," Weiss told Hillicon
Valley on Monday.
Concern that McLaughlin may have violated
federal archiving and ethics rules first arose in April, upon the debut
of Google Buzz. The new social network, which automatically adds a
user’s recent contacts to his or her subscriber list, reflected that
McLaughlin had communicated in the past with top Google staffers.
link was not totally surprising, given McLaughlin’s previous position
as Google’s head of global public policy.
But after seeing
McLaughlin’s contacts on Google Buzz, Consumer Watchdog filed a FOIA
request for his e-mails, and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) questioned
McLaughlin’s conduct in his own, separate missive.
the e-mails on Monday, according to their e-mail’s time stamp. Consumer
Watchdog was still parsing those messages later in the afternoon, but a
spokesman said his group believes "this was a serious breach of policy
by Andrew McLaughlin and warrants more than a mere slap on the wrist."
Consumer Watchdog has long opposed McLaughlin, even since the days of
his Senate confirmation.
Most of the messages obtained by
Hillicon Valley are addressed to Vint Cerf, Google’s Chief Internet
Evangelist who also works in the Commerce Department as an adviser to
the National Institutes of Standards and Technology. Those e-mails,
however, did not violate the president’s ethics pledge, as Cerf also
works for the federal government.
But some of the e-mails
might still give White House opponents some political fodder. For
example, Cerf, in one message, asks McLaughlin whether the Obama
administration had abandoned net neutrality as a policy priority. "Don’t
be silly," notes McLaughlin, adding: "No one’s backing away from
discussed policy matters in an unofficial capacity with other former
Google colleagues — especially Alan Davidson, the company’s director of
In one exchange, Davidson alerts McLaughlin to
possible fallout from his remarks on net neutrality. Later, the company
offers to go to bat for McLaughlin, promising to "tee up" the Open
Internet Coalition — of which Google is a chief member — to defend the
Web chief’s remarks.
The conversation ends when Davidson
writes: "Update on this — haven’t seen anything run yet. We and a few
OIC folks talked with reporters. It’s possible that killed it, which is
probably driving [AT&T] crazy."
In other instances, however, McLaughlin asserts his independence.
TechPresident, which also obtained a copy of McLaughlin’s e-mail records
on Monday, discovered the Web chief at least once turned down the
opportunity to wade into a Google Earth dispute. He
writes: "Norbert, in my current position, I’m recused from anything
having to do
with Google, so I’ll leave it to you and Vint to sort this out. :)"