In January, President Trump issued an executive order to prevent lobbyists from holding positions in agencies where they have actively lobbied for the interests of an industry. The executive order mirrored the Obama White House policy intent on keeping advocates for a particular industry out of the agencies responsible for enforcing budgets and writing policies. Both the Obama and Trump policies, however, allow the president to grant waivers to hire staff for positions that are particularly difficult to fill.
President Obama immediately publicized the few waivers he granted in the interest of transparency.
President Trump has granted a large number of waivers and is refusing to make the waivers public.
Walter Schaub, who directs the Office of Government Ethics, has asked the heads of government agencies for the names of Trump appointees who now work in areas that they had previously lobbied. In response, the White House has made the unprecedented move of blocking the request and is, in fact, questioning the OGE’s authority to request the information.
In a letter to Mr. Schaub, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney indicated that he is referring the request to the Justice Department because of “legal questions regarding the scope of OGE’s authorities.”
Those who voted for or against Trump in 2016 should be mindful of the Trump administration’s unwillingness to disclose the waivers for lobbyists hired at government agencies for three reasons:
- The lobbyists-turned-public-servants likely do not have the interests of the American people at heart. They represent the interests of big businesses (oil, gas, banks, pharmaceuticals, financial services, construction) and the interests of the shareholders in these industries. The regulations they enforce and the policies they write may help average Americans in Hays, Kansas or Eugene, Oregon. But it is more likely that the winners will be the wealthiest and most privileged Americans.
- Donald Trump criticized President Obama for a lack of transparency and vowed to run a White House with unparalleled openness. Along with his unwillingness to disclose White House visitor logs, the refusal to reveal which lobbyists are working in which agencies does not reflect a transparent administration.
The Trump administration is clearly struggling to fill key positions and the FBI investigation is unlikely to make that easier. But Donald Trump has a responsibility to the American people to be sure that everyone knows who is working for him and what their priorities might be.
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