A panel of the Administrative Conference of the United States met yesterday with a new special consultant to discuss more secrecy for the information that American business interests supply the government.
But when the panel makes its recommendations in the future, they are likely to be widely ignored on at least one side of Capitol Hill because of the consultant.
His name is James T. O'Reilly of Cincinnati, and as a lawyer for Procter & Gamble, he has testified for the company and advised it on the asserted need to rein in the Freedom of Information Act. With that background, he was hired this summer on a $7,000 contract to advise the conference's Committee on Regulation of Business.
Rep. Glenn English (D-Okla.), whose House Government Operations subcommittee has jurisdiction over FOIA, protested to conference officials last month. He called the choice "startling" and maintained that the conference's work on the subject had been "tainted" because of O'Reilly's continuing work for Procter & Gamble on the so-called "trade secrets" exemption under FOIA.
Loren A. Smith, appointed conference chairman last March, said he saw no problem, and added that the committee already had a consultant with "opposing views."
"With respect to an asserted conflict of interest, Mr. O'Reilly has been engaged to produce a report . . . as an independent contractor," Smith wrote English in reply. "He will do so in his personal capacity and not on behalf of Procter & Gamble."
The conference is an independent agency set up to recommend ways to make government more efficient and fair. But at least one member of its business regulation panel, William A. Butler of the National Audubon Society, said he was still troubled because O'Reilly had previously appeared before the committee itself as a "paid advocate" for Procter & Gamble.
O'Reilly could not be reached for comment. Conference counsel William C. Bush said after yesterday's meeting that most committee members appeared to agree with O'Reilly on the need to accord business records more confidentiality. Bush said he was especially impressed by O'Reilly's rapid-fire expertise on the subject.
Rep. English, it appears, is still piqued. "It is unfortunate," he wrote Smith after their first exchange, "that the poor judgment exhibited by the Administrative Conference in this matter will continue to plague its work."