The White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy has officially reprimanded deputy federal CTO Andrew McLaughlin, who was formerly Google's director of public policy and government affairs, for using a personal e-mail account for professional exchanges and for maintaining contact with his former employer. In March, a conservative media outlet noted that McLaughlin had recently been using Google Buzz to communicate with some Google employees. That was followed in April by a letter from Rep. Darrel Issa, (R-Calif.), to McLaughlin, asking him to clarify his compliance with the Presidential Records Act.
"OSTP has an excellent record of complying with legal and ethical standards, [but] one of our employees recently fell short," OSTP director John Holdren said in an internal memo sent to staff on May 10. "It is important that we follow the rules and standards that govern our conduct as federal employees. The public has put its trust in us, and it is the responsibility of every OSTP employee to uphold that trust."
An internal investigation found that McLaughlin improperly used a personal e-mail account and that his communications violated the President's Ethics Pledge, which prohibited McLaughlin from having contact with Google about matters within the scope of his deputy CTO duties. However, these communications "were incidental and had no influence on policy decisions," according to an OSTP spokesman.
Specifically, the internal memo said, McLaughlin had initially "inadvertently" failed in several instances to forward work-related e-mails received on his personal Gmail account to his OSTP account.
In addition, in several e-mails, McLaughlin "discussed matters within the sphere of his official duties" with Google employees. For example, he assured Google chief evangelist (and Internet co-inventor) Vint Cerf that the Obama administration was not backing away from its support for network neutrality.
The reprimand amounts to little more than a slap on the wrist, and Holdren's memo didn't even refer to McLaughlin by name. According to the spokesman, McLaughlin -- a former Harvard Law professor -- regrets his actions and has "taken steps to ensure" such lapses don't happen again.
In addition to receiving additional individual training, the spokesman said McLaughlin has also reviewed both the Ethics Pledge and federal ethics laws. All of the e-mails that had not initially been forwarded to McLaughlin's White House e-mail account now have been forwarded in order to remain in line with the Presidential Records Act.