Change I Can Believe In
Hundreds, if not thousands, of lobbyists are likely to be ejected from federal advisory panels as part of a little-noticed initiative by the Obama administration to curb K Street's influence in Washington, according to White House officials and lobbying experts.
The new policy -- issued with little fanfare this fall by the White House ethics counsel -- may turn out to be the most far-reaching lobbying rule change so far from President Obama, who also has sought to restrict the ability of lobbyists to get jobs in his administration and to negotiate over stimulus contracts.
The initiative is aimed at a system of advisory committees so vast that federal officials don't have exact numbers for its size; the most recent estimates tally nearly 1,000 panels with total membership exceeding 60,000 people.
Under the policy, which is being phased in over the coming months, none of the more than 13,000 lobbyists in Washington would be able to hold seats on the committees, which advise agencies on trade rules, troop levels, environmental regulations, consumer protections and thousands of other government policies.
Now, I'm a little stunned that there are so many advisory committees and that the exact number isn't known, but I can kind of understand the usefulness of having some groups available to the government with expertise on the issues. I cannot, however, fathom why agencies and the White House would be happy with lobbyists in that role. Rather than having a PHARMA lobbyist providing input to the FDA, a researcher who understands the concept of side effects and the studies which track them just seems to be a better candidate, even if that researcher works for Merck.
Lobbyists, many of whom are screaming about President Obama's move, may understand the economics of any agency's decision, but they all have an agenda. That's their job. They are lobbyists for a particular point of view, a particular business enterprise. They are not interested in such notions as the public good, only in the bottom line of their clients.
At least one good government organization gets it:
"You may lose a lot of expertise, but these people are also paid to have a point of view; they have an agenda," said Mary Boyle, a vice president at Common Cause. "We support what the administration is doing to get deep-seated special interests out of the business of running our government, so this seems like a step in the right direction."
It's a start, but an important one.
Nicely done, Mr. President