Letter to The Wall Street Journal

October 8, 2015

To the editors of The Wall Street Journal:

Your editorial “Elizabeth Warren’s Intellectual Purge” (Oct. 1) and Gordon Crovitz’s op-ed “Don’t Cross Elizabeth Warren” (Information Age, Oct. 5) misconstrue the reason Brookings accepted Robert Litan’s resignation as an unpaid, part-time affiliate. (He has not been a full-time, resident scholar since 2003.)

Dr. Litan is a highly respected researcher who spent much of his life in public service. Our decision was not connected in any way to the substance of his testimony to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, nor Sen. Warren’s disagreement with his views.

At issue was his identifying himself with Brookings in a document he submitted in connection with his appearance as a witness. Dr. Litan’s testimony and the report on which it was based were not Brookings products. Rather, they were works he produced as a private contractor, funded by an individual financial services corporation. While he disclosed corporate “support” for his research, he did not make clear that his testimony was based on work as a paid consultant. The combination of that failure and his identifying himself as a Brookings affiliate left the false impression that Brookings was connected with the report and the testimony.

To prevent misperceptions of exactly this nature, Brookings instituted a rule earlier this year that prohibits nonresident affiliates from using their honorific titles when testifying before Congress. Dr. Litan was aware of that rule. It was explicitly stated in his annual letter of appointment. We know he received and agreed to this rule because, at our request, he co-signed the letter and returned it to Brookings one month before his testimony.

Contrary to an allegation in Mr. Crovitz’s column, I have never accused Dr. Litan of deliberately concealing a conflict of interest. Contract research may be of the highest intellectual quality. In Dr. Litan’s case, I have no doubt it was. But in such cases, complete transparency is essential.

Brookings acted to affirm its commitment to independent research.

Strobe Talbott
President, The Brookings Institution