In a significant reversal by the Obama administration, lobbyists will now be permitted to serve on federal advisory committees, boards, and commissions after more than four years of sitting on the advisory committee sidelines.  In guidance published in the Federal Register today, the Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) quietly revised, in large part, the administration’s longstanding and controversial ban on lobbyists serving on federal advisory committees, boards, and commissions.

OMB’s new guidance now permits lobbyists to hold some seats on advisory committees while maintaining the bar with respect to others.  The guidance distinguishes between lobbyists serving in an “individual capacity” (who are still prohibited from serving on advisory committees) and lobbyists serving in a “representative capacity” (who now may sit on these committees).  As described further in today’s Covington e-Alert, trade associations, corporations, and lobbyists can easily determine whether a particular seat on an advisory committee is an “individual capacity” seat (from which lobbyists are still barred) or a “representative capacity” seat (to which lobbyists may now be appointed).  Although never mentioned in the OMB guidance, the federal government already maintains a website with this information.  The FACA database, allows individuals to pull up a list of all members of a particular federal advisory committee.  If the “Member Designation” on the website is “Special Government Employee,” the lobbyist is still likely out of luck.  If the “Member Designation” is “Representative,” lobbyists should sharpen their pencils and prepare their applications — they are now generally free to serve on those committees.

The new guidance now gives lobbyists an opportunity to share their views, experience, and expertise on many federal advisory committees from which they had previously been barred.  But, because the bar still remains in effect with respect to many committee seats, lobbyists who are would-be advisory committee members will need to evaluate each committee, and each seat on the committee, on a case-by-case basis.