Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Government: The Revolving Door

As everyone knows by now, ousted FEMA Director Robert Brown is now serving as a consultant to FEMA. This is utterly disgusting.

But what's is truly disgusting is that it happens all the time.

Allow me to peel back the curtain and show you how the government currently works...

Most government functions are actually done by consultants. When Congress passes a law with money appropriated to it, that money and the responsibility for administering it gets assigned to a program office somewhere in the government. But once the program office gets the money, it is almost always handed out to private contractors in the form of grants or contracts.

The vast majority of civil servants don't actually carry out any government programs. They simply administer the private grants and contracts which carry out the government programs, supervise the consultants, and fulfill the many (many many) statistical and methodological reporting requirements to Congress, the White House, independent agencies, etc.

So it is equally common for the civil servants and executive branch appointees who manage them to leave government service in order to work as a consultant. In general, it's much more lucrative.

But, by law, there is a "cooling off period" of a least one year. This prevents you from turning around and using your contacts and influence within your former agency to garner contracts and grants, which by law must be fairly competed for by everyone in the private sector.

All of this can be found at the United States Office of Government Ethics (USOGE), Understanding the Revolving Door: How Ethics Rules Apply to Your Job Seeking and Post-Government Employment Activities:

If you have served as a “senior employee during your last year of Government service, you are restricted for one year from making any representational contacts to your former agency on any matter, regardless of whether the matter involves parties.

The key words here are "representational contacts" which is legal speak for talking to or representing anyone other then yourself or the United States.

But for years now, the Bush administration has skirted the ethics rules. Virtually every senior official I've met or worked with or read comes back as a consultant to the agency that they headed, usually within days or weeks of their leaving government.

Here's how - rather then leaving to work for private industry - they leave, and as a private citizen, get hired by their former agency to offer "expert advice." They are barred from "representational contacts" - so they can't contract or subcontract out for the government - they can't actually carry out any program. They collect a large paycheck off of the public rolls for doing virtually nothing. Sometimes, they attend meetings or write a paper. That's it.

Why do senior Bush Administration officials do this? They do it because it ensures that when they leave, they also get a fat government paycheck for doing nothing. Previous administrations have done this as well, but in general they waited until their "cooling off period" was over, and were hired to do substantive work of some sort. But this is nothing but patronage, plain and simple.

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