CBO’s Policy for Its Panels of Advisers Regarding Political Activity and Financial Interests

Members of CBO’s panels of advisers are selected to represent a variety of perspectives so that the agency can gather information and insights from experts with diverse views as well as from the interactions between those experts at panel meetings. In determining membership on those panels, CBO has had a longstanding practice of considering whether members and potential members are engaged in political activity that might influence, or that might reasonably appear to influence, their perspective. If someone is known to have accepted a political appointment or joined a political campaign while serving on one of CBO’s panels, he or she has generally been asked to leave the panel or has not been invited to serve on it while that activity is taking place and possibly, depending on the nature of the activity, for some period thereafter.

Beginning on March 30, 2015, CBO formalized and expanded this practice into a policy that requires panelists and people being considered for the panels to disclose to the agency any substantial political activity in which they may be involved and any significant financial interests they may have. Political activity and financial interests are not necessarily disqualifying, but CBO wants to know about situations that might influence the perspective of panel members on the issues about which the agency is seeking their advice.

The disclosure reports required of advisers categorize information for substantial political activity and significant financial interests as follows:

  • Political activity;
  • Wages, other compensation, and gifts (including travel);
  • Negotiations for future employment with a political campaign or the federal government;
  • Research agreements (grants, contracts, etc.) with foreign governments;
  • Research agreements specifically to provide advice for public policy development;
  • Other research agreements; and
  • Financial investments.

In this context, participation in political activity is “substantial” if such participation would be reasonably viewed as establishing a salient connection between CBO and a campaign, a political candidate, an officeholder, or a cause. The specific positions taken are irrelevant; rather, the potential harm to CBO’s reputation for objectivity comes from association with political activity or public advocacy. Examples of substantial political activity include employment with a political campaign, acting as a surrogate for a campaign, and sustained involvement in forming policy positions of an officeholder. Conversely, merely endorsing a candidate, expressing agreement with some views of a candidate, or providing occasional advice to an officeholder does not constitute substantial political activity. Financial interests are “significant” if they exceed certain dollar thresholds.

For political activity and financial interests, the likelihood of potential harm to CBO’s reputation—and therefore the steps that CBO takes in response—depends on a number of factors. CBO considers the individual’s degree of participation in and the nature, time, and place of an activity; the value of a financial interest; the individual’s role as an adviser to CBO; and the connection between an activity or financial interest and the individual’s areas of expertise. Because of CBO’s role, an adviser’s involvement in matters that are or could be before the Congress are more important than his or her involvement in other matters. The steps CBO may take in response to concerns about such involvement include disclosing information to CBO staff members who are in contact with an adviser about a particular issue, excluding an adviser from discussions of particular issues, and removing an adviser from the panel.

People being considered for appointment to CBO’s panels of advisers are required to file a disclosure report before becoming advisers, and current advisers are required to file a similar report each year. (See the form for the initial filing and the form for annual filings.) People who were advisers at the time this policy was implemented are required to file a report to continue as an adviser. In addition, advisers have an ongoing responsibility to notify CBO shortly after beginning substantial political activity or entering into significant research agreements to provide advice for public policy development. The disclosure reports are available to the public in CBO’s office upon request.