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Why Trump transition team canceled ethics training session

Posted at 3:25 PM, Mar 02, 2017

President Donald Trump’s transition team, days before he took office, nixed plans for an orientation class that would have prepared political appointees and White House staff for a series of ethical and legal issues, documents provided to CNN show.

The ethics program proposed by the Government Services Administration would have helped White House staff and political appointees get through Senate confirmation hearings, work with Congress and corresponding agencies and comply with laws and executive orders — all issues Trump nominees and staff have confronted during their first six weeks in office.

Politico first reported that the training was scraped.

The Trump administration said Thursday that the White House Counsel’s office did provide political appointees and executive branch staff ethics training when they came into office.

“Required trainings, including ethics, were provided to appointees by in-house counsels prior to assuming office,” said Stephanie Grisham, a White House spokeswoman. “It was a requirement for everyone. In-house counsel has been taking it very seriously from the beginning.”

Grisham noted that White House Counsel Don McGahn “ramped up an experienced compliance team” in the early days of the Trump administration so that “all necessary training could be provided without paying for outside contractors.”

But the Government Services Administration had solicited contracts for the eventually scrapped ethics training in a “request for quote” letter that went out on November 4, 2016, days before Election Day. The letter asked suppliers to provide three phases of training to roughly 4,000 attendees.

“It is intended to start at the top and extend throughout the Federal Government, establishing the tone and culture of collaboration and accountability for the President’s Administration,” read the request.

Similar programs had been implemented by both George W. Bush and Barack Obama’s transition teams.

The request for service said the Trump administration wanted to “acquaint key prospective presidential appointees with the types of problems and challenges that most typically confront new political appointees when they make the transition from campaign and other prior activities to assuming the responsibility of governance after inauguration.”

In total, the program was slated to cost $1 million.

But days before Trump was inaugurated, on January 11, 2017, Matthew Gormley, the contracting officer for the Government Services Administration, told those interested in the contract that the program was canceled.

“It has been determined that the requirements as defined in the RFQ do not accurately reflect the current needs of the Presidential Transition Team and, consequently, it is in the government’s best interest to cancel the solicitation,” Gormley wrote.

The Trump administration has been embarrassed by a number of high-profile vetting issues. Former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn was forced to resign after it became clear that he misled Vice President Mike Pence, former Labor Secretary nominee Andy Puzder withdrew his nomination after a series of damaging stories and missteps and a number of lower level staffers have been dismissed after failing to clear background checks.