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Calls to fix new gTLD “revolving door” at ICANN

Kevin Murphy, June 26, 2011, 09:52:49 (UTC), Domain Policy

ICANN’s CEO has acknowledged calls for a rethink of its ethics policies in light of the approval of the new generic top-level domains program and a recent high-profile staff departure.
Rod Beckstrom, during his opening remarks at ICANN’s international public meeting in Singapore last week, said he expects to lose staff to new gTLD applicants:

we could see a rise in departures as our highly qualified staff are recruited by other organizations, including some in this room, for their unique experience in this emerging area.
This would be a solid endorsement of our staff. Not unexpectedly, the first such resignation has already occurred.
I am pleased to hear the community begin discussions on whether ICANN ethics policies need to be strengthened.

The resignation referred to was that of Craig Schwartz, who has quit his job as ICANN’s chief gTLD registry liaison to head BITS’ application for .bank and other financial TLDs.
There are fears that the sudden influx of new money into the gTLD space could easily attract ICANN’s top talent away from the organization, making it less effective.
This looming problem is particularly troubling given ICANN’s recent staff retention problems.
Adrian Kinderis, CEO of likely applicant and registry services provider AusRegistry, said during a meeting between the ICANN board and the GNSO Council last week:

I need to ramp up some people very very quickly that know about this domain application process, and I’ll pay big dollars because there’s big dollars out there…
If you don’t do something, I will poach all your good people.

A small number of people who know the Applicant Guidebook inside-out – I’ve heard stories of meetings where ICANN executives use a whiteboard to brainstorm all the possible ways to game the program – would make invaluable recruits for registry services providers or consulting firms.
Senior vice president Kurt Pritz, who’s been heading the development of the Guidebook for the last few years, would be a killer hire if and when he decides to leave.
Currently, there’s nothing in these employees’ contracts that would prevent such talent leakage – although many have signed confidentiality agreements – Beckstrom said on Monday.
The GNSO has started talking about a policy that could help prevent a “revolving door” between the industry and ICANN, which is in many ways its regulator.
A very early-stage draft document compiled by Go Daddy’s Tim Ruiz has been circulated to the Council, outlining eight ideas for such a policy.
It could for example require contracted parties to agree not to hire ICANN staff during their employment and for a period thereafter, and vice versa.
It also suggests banning staff joining ICANN from a contracted party working on matters related to that company for two years after being hired.
Governments around the world already have such policies in place, although they vary wildly and are enforced with various degrees of effectiveness.
Perversely, the fact that everyone knows these talks are now underway may in fact accelerate registries’ headhunting of ICANN staff – there presumably can be no revolving door ethics policy violation before a revolving door ethics policy has been created.

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Comments (1)

  1. Kristina R says:

    Don’t read too much into Rod’s comments. During the GNSO Council meeting with the Board, Steve Crocker acknowledged that the Board had only focused on the revolving door issue from the perspective of staff and, even then, only out of concern about the use/abuse of confidential information. The Board clearly had not contemplated the applicability of any rules to directors and officers and also, as far as I can tell, limits its consideration to actual conflicts of interest and not the appearance of impropriety. The latter category, in my world, is of equal importance.

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