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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, December 1, 2002

Lingle intern program has serious questions

Randall Roth, a University of Hawai'i law professor on loan to Gov.-elect Linda Lingle as her senior policy adviser, has come up with a plan to save the new Republican administration money while tapping into expertise from the private sector.

Using his own arrangement as a model, Roth proposes that companies and organizations offer up paid leaves for various experts to serve as professional interns for the Lingle administration. The Legislature drastically cut the budget for staffing the governor's office, so naturally Lingle is thrilled with this idea.

"We think there's so much talent out there in the community, in the business sector, in the nonprofit sector, in the art community, in the sports community. We just want more people involved than just the people who were elected," Lingle said.

And we, too, can see obvious advantages to a professional intern program. Above all, the Lingle administration could benefit from fresh thinkers who are not bound by the same limitations as government employees.

However, we cannot ignore the downside of this proposal.

For starters, the financial pressure to launch the program apparently isn't as great as it's made out to be. We've been told that Cayetano's office saved about $400,000 by not renewing some consultant contracts, among other methods, which means Lingle has the money to maintain current staffing levels in her office — 60 people — through the next six months.

What's more troubling about the intern program is the potential for conflicts of interest. Roth and Lingle have shrugged off that suggestion, but we cannot see how it can fail to be a continuing concern.

Not too many companies can afford to give up an employee at full pay for six months to a year, so already the plan is weighted in favor of wealthy and influential corporations. How will a company delivering up an executive to the Lingle administration keep itself from supposing that it then has a favor due?

Obviously rules would have to be adopted to preclude interns from working on issues that concern their parent companies. We would not endorse a program in which, say, someone sent by a development company was assigned to a land-use issue while still on that company's payroll.

We will be among those watching closely that no such conflicts are allowed.