Friday, July 10, 2009

Waitlist-Gate Likely a Non-Issue for White House Disability Chief

The White House's top disability advocate was back in the news yesterday -- but for the wrong reasons. The Chicago Tribune reported that Kareem Dale, special assistant to the president for disability policy, used his White House email account to recommend a student for admission to the University of Illinois law school, his alma mater. The school's dean testified that the school no longer uses "clout lists" and that Dale's email from April was ignored.

Is this a big deal or a small deal? I say pretty minor, and unlikely to affect Dale's ability to be an effective advocate for people with disabilities. In his email, he stressed that he was writing in a personal capacity -- so while he used poor judgment, there's no evidence he was intentionally implying his endorsement reflected the views of the President or anyone else at the White House.

When I worked at the White House during the first years of the Clinton Administration, several junior staff were reprimanded for receiving -- not sending -- faxes with NCAA brackets during March Madness. It was considered a form of gambling and an ethical violation to give someone the fax number and ask to receive the document. Sending a completed bracket, I'm sure, would have been considered worse.

More relevant, there was a strong policy against using your White House badge to gain any sort of favor. If a local bar or restaurant advertised "half price drinks/food for White House staff," it would be an ethical violation to accept. In fact, you were encouraged to put your badge in your pocket while you were outside the building. So when you work there, you have to recognize that you are always representing the White House and the President -- and increasingly, you are under a microscope from people who want to catch you doing something wrong.

My guess? From now on, Kareem Dale's media exposure will be related to his dual roles as an advocate for disabilities and the arts. And you've heard the end of waitlist-gate.
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