Facebook and Gibbs? Another key hire for company under fire

If Facebook were to hire Robert Gibbs, as reported by The New York Times, it would be the latest high-powered political hire the social networking giant has made as it finds itself under increased scrutiny in Washington.

Last June, the Silicon Valley firm hired former Obama administration official Marne Levine as its vice president for global public policy. Levine was the former chief of staff of the White House National Economic Council.

Facebook declined to comment on the report that it is courting former White House spokesman Gibbs to join its policy and communications team. In the past year, the company has beefed up its D.C. policy and lobbying office, making strategic hires as lawmakers and regulators look to rules and laws to govern the unregulated Internet industry and greater consumer concerns over privacy. Facebook has been investigated by the Federal Trade Commission for its changes in privacy policy.

It’s hired a former ACLU privacy expert to speak on behalf of the company at congressional hearings and to regulators. And it has expanded its communications team in D.C. as the company finds itself responding to more questions about its privacy policies from the media.

Today, the company moved its federal government and policy staff into a new, bigger office on F Street in downtown D.C.

But direct connections to the White House concern privacy advocates, who say the administration needs more distance from the company that has more than 500 million users worldwide.

“Facebook has grown too big too fast and needs to be closely watched,” said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. “All Gibbs would be doing if it is true he is going to Facebook is selling his connections to the White House while it is in the crosshairs of privacy concerns around the world.”

Fred Wertheimer, president of government reform group Democracy 21, says Gibbs wouldn’t be able to directly lobby White House officials because of rules adopted by the Obama administration aimed to limit influence-peddling between government and industry.

The revolving door between government and companies has been around for ages, and new hires from Facebook only continue a trend seen in many industries, Wertheimer said.

But someone like Gibbs would be a valuable asset not only because of his connections but because of his deep knowledge of the administration’s style and thinking and his expertise in government.

“You want to strike a balance here where you want to bring in people from the private sector with experience and know-how and you don’t want them to leave the government and profit on the basis of their ability to influence the government,” Wertheimer said.

(Post Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Donald E. Graham sits on Facebook’s board of directors, and the newspaper and many Post staffers use Facebook for marketing purposes.)

Cecilia Kang is a senior technology correspondent for The Washington Post.

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