Former Google executive Andrew McLaughlin has resigned as Deputy Chief Technology Officer in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, prompted at least in part, I think, by issues Consumer Watchdog raised.
It’s good he’s gone; he should never have been appointed to the position in the first place. The question now is how much damage did he do while in the White House job. I think McLaughlin delivered for Google, particularly in the area of online privacy.
This month both the Federal Trade Commission and the Commerce Department issued reports about online privacy. Among other things the FTC called for creation of a Do Not Track function to protect consumers. The Commerce report is industry-friendly and many believe McLaughlin played a key role in shaping the report and moving Obama administration policy in that direction.
Here’s what Google lobbyist Pablo Chavez wrote about the Commerce report:
“In particular, the green paper focuses on the need for all global stakeholders — including companies, advocates, and government — to work together to proactively improve privacy. We strongly support the Commerce Department engaging more actively internationally including the creation of a global framework for privacy to better address international data flows…
“We support the Department of Commerce’s recommendation for privacy to be approached comprehensively and broadly, with a clear focus both on users and innovation on the Internet. This kind of thoughtful approach to a complex issue like privacy shows leadership and expertise…”
Before taking the White House job McLaughlin was Google’s Director of Global Public Policy, in other words, Google’s top global lobbyist. He was a political operative for the Internet giant. Indeed, the statement of organization for Google’s political action committee, Google Inc. NetPAC, filed on March 16, 2009, lists McLaughlin as the committee’s assistant treasurer and its designated agent.
I joined my colleague Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, in writing Present Obama opposing the McLaughlin’s appointment. We wrote:
“The problem is that he has been a lobbyist for the biggest digital marketing company in the world, and we believe no special-interest connected person should assume a position of vital importance to the country’s future. It would be just as inappropriate for a lobbyist from Microsoft, Yahoo! or any similar technology company to be appointed Deputy Chief Technology Officer.”
Last spring I filed a Freedom of Information Act request that uncovered the fact that McLaughlin was using a private email account for business as well as inappropriate communication between McLaughlin and former Google colleague Alan Davidson, Google’s Director of Public Policy and Government Affairs in Washington. He received a “reprimand” — actually little more than a slap on the wrist.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R – CA, then the ranking Republican member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and not someone whose views I usually share, was concerned and wanted to call McLaughlin before the committee. That effort was rebuffed by then majority Democrats, but with the Republicans in control of the House in the next Congress, Issa, who will be chairman, has vowed to revisit the matter.
In an email to Politico’s Kim Hart, McLaughlin explained his decision to depart:
“My White House experience has been fantastic, but it’s been more than two years since I started working on the transition, and I’ve been feeling the itch to get entrepreneurial again.”
I see it differently. After carrying Google’s water first on the transition team and then in the White House, McLaughlin just doesn’t want to deal with people like me filing FOIA requests or Rep. Issa and his GOP colleagues hauling him under oath before an unfriendly House Committee.