President-elect George Bush, moving to make good on a campaign pledge to stress ethics in government, got off to a fast start last week by asking his transition staff to promise they would avoid conflicts of interest.
Specialists in government ethics praised the actions Bush has taken in the two weeks since his election, but they said the real test of his administration's commitment to clean government will come later."When someone trips up, Bush has to live up to his promise and take action against that person, difficult as it may be," said Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University.
Bernard Wruble, the first man to head the Office of Government Ethics which was established under the 1978 Ethics In Government Act, agreed. "The moment he has one bad apple, he has to act in a very positive manner," Wruble said.
An administration's ethical climate "comes from the president," he said.
Bush ordered his transition staff to sign a "standards of conduct" declaration that requires them to disqualify themselves from matters in which they might have a financial conflict.
Robert M. Teeter, co-director of Bush's transition office, said the pledges were meant to "emphasize to the public once again that they can have full confidence in the people who he hires to do the public's business for him."
Throughout his public life, Bush has stressed "ethics and standards of conduct," Teeter said.
The White House announced Saturday that President Reagan had signed a memorandum ordering all federal officials who are working with the transition team to sign the same ethics pledge required of Bush's aides. The pledge includes a code-of-silence agreement that officials will "hold in confidence" any information about transition matters.
During the presidential campaign, Democrats repeatedly raised the so-called sleaze factor and said 11 top Reagan administration officials had resigned underfire or were investigated, indicted or convicted.
The officials included two of Reagan's close personal friends, former Attorney General Edwin Meese III and former deputy White House chief of staff Michael K. Deaver.
In an apparent attempt to put distance between himself and the Reagan administration on this issue, Bush said he would appoint a "senior counselor" for ethics, establish ethics offices in every government agency and have mandatory annual briefings for ethics officers. Each agency already has a designated ethics officer.
Common Cause, the citizens' lobby, said Bush's transition pledge "looks fine but there are other tests waiting," said Ann McBride, the group's vice president.
Specifically, Common Cause wants Bush to pressure Reagan to sign the so-called revolving door bill that would clamp down on lobbying by former members of Congress and former senior administration officials.
Congress passed the bill and Bush endorsed it, but Reagan has yet to sign it. The measure establishes a one-year waiting period before former high-ranking officials can lobby Congress or the executive branch.
The Bush administration also should close loopholes in the campaign finance laws, she said.
In one of his first acts after his Nov. 8 election, Bush appointed C. Boyden Gray as his transition counsel. Gray, who will become the White House legal adviser, is setting up procedures for advising prospective federal appointees on financial disclosure requirements
Gray already has met with officials from the Office of Government Ethics, which oversees compliance with financial disclosure requirements.
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