Serving the Public

PROMISES to give the government back to the people were usually greeted with cheers during the recent presidential campaign. Such promises were a mainstay of Ross Perot's unorthodox candidacy, and the political inclinations behind them helped push through term-limitation initiatives in 14 states.

Millions of voters hold the view that too many people are in government for their own gain, rather than the public good. Having walked the streets of the country for over a year, Bill Clinton is sharply aware of this concern.

In response, Mr. Clinton wants to slow down, at least, the "revolving door" between government service and Washington lobbying. He is starting with the members of his transition team, who in coming weeks will be privy to information that could be of great interest to organizations or companies whose futures will hinge on Clinton policies.

The transition's code of ethics sets a good course. Team members will be barred for six months from lobbying government agencies whose staffing they helped shape. As a general rule, they won't be involved in areas where they might have a business interest.

There are exceptions to the latter rule, however, most notably transition chairman Vernon Jordan. Mr. Jordan is on numerous corporate boards, including that of RJR Nabisco. Critics argue that his ties to the tobacco giant should disqualify him from discussions of top health posts.

Clinton spokesmen counter that the president-elect, not Jordan, will make all final decisions. More to the point, they could argue the difficulty of excluding the transition's chairman from key deliberations. Jordan's case underscores the difficulty of finding outstanding, politically savvy people who are not connected to powerful interests.

Will that fact of life, plus Clinton's promise to bar his appointees from the lobbying arena for a full five years after leaving office (the current rule is one year), narrow the pool of candidates for administration jobs? Possibly, but the ethical gains will be worth it.

The highly publicized tougher standards being erected by Clinton will demand tougher policing of the revolving door. The point is not to limit lobbying, which has a legitimate role in democratic government, but to keep the financial incentive for being in government within bounds.

Those who elected the new president will watch closely to see if he can make public service more than a campaign theme.

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