Livin' it up, American style

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Revolving Door

The New York Times had an
article today about the deregulation of the US semi-trucking industry. It talked about how the powerful trucking lobby has convinced the Bush administration to loosen regulations and safety standards. Truck drivers are now allowed to stay on the roads for longer periods of time, and there is little oversight of truckers' hours to make sure they are not driving more than the allowed hours a week and are resting for the mandated time between trips.

The trucking industry has partly been able to achieve these changes courtesy of Bush, who has placed many former trucking officials in key administration positions, mostly in the transportation department. For example, to lead the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Bush selected a man who was the former chairman of Roadway, a large trucking company. This same man was a leader of an industry foundation that sponsored research that determined fatigue was not a factor in trucking accidents, despite the fact that every other study on the same topic has found the exact opposite. Yeah, this is really the man I want making decisions about my safety on the road. Next he's going to tell us that the safest drivers in America are parents who talk on their cell phone while simultaneously yelling at one of the 5 screaming kids in the back seats.

This story about the trucking official who made it big in the government is a shining example of something political scientists call the "revolving door". The revolving door refers to the way that industry officials leave their position in the private sector for a job in the government that mainly involves oversight or regulation of their former industry, like the above example of the trucker official. It also refers to the way that Congressmen, their staff, and other government officials will leave their government jobs to take a position as a lobbyist in an industry that they were previously overseeing or working with in their former position.

In fact, 43% of former Congressmen who have left Congress since 1998 and are eligible, have become lobbyists. (former Congressmen have to wait one year after leaving office before they can lobby their former colleagues) A former Congressman still holds many privileges at the Capitol. He/she can roam freely on the floors of the House and Senate, they get to keep using the House gym, and they can go anywhere in the Capitol labeled for congress members only. This gives these congressmen-turned-lobbyists almost unfettered access to the law makers of the country to push the agenda of the industry for whom they now work.

This revolving door quite understandably leads to many conflicts of interest. A newly appointed government official who has spent 20 years working for a logging company is not going to be very sympathetic to the idea of restricting logging in order to save the spotted owl. One specific example is James Connaughton, who is currently the chairman of the Council of Environmental Quality, the main environmental advisors to the president. His former job? A lobbyist for the utility industry and large electricity users. He was one of the great guys who led the fight to allow more arsenic in drinking water, and he persistently advises Bush to ignore the evil conspiracy theory of global warming. Going the other way in the revolving door is Edward Aldridge, who as a Pentagon official long criticized an overpriced plan to buy 20 Lockheed Martin planes. Well, one day he decided that he did approve of the $3 billion dollar plan. And then a few weeks later, he left his job at the Pentagon to go join the board of Lockheed Martin.

Talk about conflict of interest. And it's all legal, and it's all your environmental safety, and drinking water healthiness and your tax money, and YOU that is the loser in these dealings.


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