There’s been plenty of media coverage of the trend of lobbyists taking up new jobs in the Trump administration. The specter of a President who has pledged to “drain the swamp” buying into typical Washington, D.C. “revolving door” behavior seems icky and sensational to some, but there’s a bigger issue at play here. It seems the Trump administration has been bringing on board ex-lobbyists and lawyers who have continued to do the bidding of their former employers in their new jobs.
Jazz Shaw over at Hot Air recently documented how Chris Brown, a former lobbyist for Airlines for America now employed at the FAA, has been lobbying for Airlines for America’s chief policy priority— air traffic control privatization— from his new perch:
Another shot was allegedly fired this week by one of the members of the FAA, issuing a strongly worded and enthusiastic memo urging adoption of the plan.
The memo comes from Chris Brown, Assistant Administrator for Government and Industry Affairs at the FAA. You can read the entire thing by clicking on the image below, followed by a short excerpt.
Now let’s take a quick glance at Chris Brown’s resume, as listed on his Linkedin profile. He’s been employed with either the FAA or the House Transportation Committee since December of 2014. But prior to that his job title from March of 2011 through December 2014 was Vice President, Legislative and Regulatory Policy working for… can you guess? If you said Airlines for America you win a cookie. And for the two years prior to that stint he was Senior Advisor for Government Affairs working for… United Airlines.
Now, House Democrats are asking the Department of Transportation Inspector General to investigate Mr. Brown and his pro-air traffic control privatization push.
But Chris Brown is hardly the only example of this trend. It looks like the same thing may be occurring with appointees in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
Recently, CMS rolled out a proposal strongly backed by a good chunk of the pharmaceutical industry. The details are somewhat complicated, but the upshot is this: Big Pharma has been in a fight with a bunch of hospitals serving poorer patients over a drug discount program Big Pharma hates, and to stick it to said hospitals, Big Pharma has been pushing the proposal CMS just signed onto.
Guess who looks like they did the pushing from inside CMS and HHS, and who’s been selling the policy ever since? That’s right: A couple of guys formerly on the payroll of Big Pharma.
From the pharmaceutical industry trade publication Pink Sheet (subscription only):
Medicare pays “far more than the hospitals’ cost of obtaining the drugs” and because beneficiary cost sharing is based on Medicare reimbursement rate, they are paying “much more” too, HHS Deputy Secretary for Policy and Evaluation John O’Brien said in a media call on the proposal.
CMS Principal Deputy Administrator Demetrious Kouzoukas said seniors could save “at a minimum, an estimated $180m on drug costs annually” with the change.
So who are John O’Brien and Demetrious Kouzoukas? From John O’Brien’s biography, available here.
O’Brien holds a doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) degree from Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and studied pharmacy and public policy at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He has 10 years of experience as an advocate for the pharmacy and pharmaceutical industries, including work as the senior director of state policy for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA)…
And who is Demetrious Kouzoukas? Well, it turns out he used to lawyer for now-defunct drugmaker Dendreon, which made the drug Provenge, which was subject to 340B drug discounts (the ones Big Pharma hates and is trying to stick it to these hospitals over, via this new policy).
And then we have the example of Kristi Boswell.
Who is she? Well, Ms. Boswell is currently a Senior Advisor to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. But what did she do before that? According to her LinkedIn profile, she spent five and a half years working as a lobbyist for the American Farm Bureau Federation, handling a portfolio of about ten issues – all of which could, and probably will, crop up (no pun intended) in her new job.
It’s hard to imagine that Ms. Boswell won’t wind up advocating for her former employer and their policy positions when that inevitably occurs. And it’s hard to imagine she’ll be able to do her job effectively if she recuses herself from working on any or all of these matters in this new role.
The reality is, there will always be former lobbyists in government, and former government officials who transition out to lobby. That’s not likely to change under any administration. But there’s a difference between merely bringing lobbyists in, and putting them in positions where they are able to easily advance their former paymasters’ interests—and where they then clearly do so. It looks like the Trump administration is developing a problem in the latter area; the question is, will they fix it.