DoJ rushes to approve Google's ITA purchase before shutdown; Update: Approved!

With the budget impasse about to result in a government shutdown, the federal government has just hours to finish up its highest priorities in the discretionary-spending world.  Would that be paying the troops?  Staffing Social Security support centers?  Prosecuting criminals in federal court?  Not exactly, as the Washington Post discovered this morning.  The Department of Justice will spend its remaining budget today trying to expedite approval of a deal involving one of Barack Obama’s most significant supporters and one of his informal presidential advisers:

With a government shutdown looming, the Justice Department is hurrying to approve a controversial deal by Google on Friday that would allow the firm to acquire a powerful travel search software firm, though with some strings attached, according to a source close to the negotiations.

Antitrust officials are moving quickly to resolve months of negotiations with the tech giant over concerns that the acquisition could hurt competition in the travel search business. A shutdown could throw the talks into disarray because many Justice employees would not be able to work.

Government officials are seeking an agreement with Google that would require ongoing antitrust monitoring of the company, a first for the tech firm as it fends off rising concerns about its size and dominance on the Web.

Coincidentally, I’m sure, Google CEO Eric Schmidt was a big donor to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008.  He now serves on Obama’s President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), after working on his transition team.  Schmidt will retire from his CEO position at Google this month but will remain executive chairman of Google.

This decision comes after two controversies with Google in the past month.  First, a new book claims that Schmidt attempted to get the record of a political contribution removed from Google archives so people wouldn’t easily find it.  As the Post reports, the Federal Trade Commission is already investigating alleged privacy violations committed by Google in its Buzz product.  Expediting the approval seems rather unusual in light of the latter issue.

However, it tells us plenty about the priorities of this DoJ and the Obama administration.  They seem to be willing to cut off pay for the troops by refusing to budge on a new CR than fully funds Defense for the rest of the year, but not willing to make Google and Schmidt wait to complete their sale.

Update: Hey, who says the federal government isn’t efficient?  The deal got announced a few minutes ago:

The Justice Department said on Friday it has approved Google’s $700 million acquisition of ITA, an online travel company specializing in airline ticketing software, with several conditions.

Whew!  Never mind that military families will have to do without pay; at least they’ve taken care of Eric Schmidt.  Our long national nightmare is over.

Update II: I rewrote the paragraph after the excerpt, as it made it sound as though Schmidt was retiring from PCAST.  He’s retiring as Google CEO.