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Biden's revolving door: Union lobbyists land administration posts with ethics waivers

"Does government really work for the public, or does it work for these large well-entrenched insider interests in Washington?" asks government ethics watchdog with Protect the Public's Trust.

Updated: June 2, 2021 - 11:10pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

The Biden Administration has granted nine ethics waivers for executive branch officials with ties to big labor and other organizations that would typically prevent them from interacting with their former employers from their new government perches.

Exemptions are made in every administration, but it is important to stay abreast of exactly who the beneficiaries of the waived standards are and why, according to Michael Chamberlain, director of Protect the Public's Trust, a new government ethics watchdog group.

In the case of the Biden administration, several high profile exemptions have been made for former labor union officials who are now in positions of power that will require them to work directly with their former employers.

One such example is Alethea Predeoux, the director of intergovernmental affairs for the Office of Personnel Management. Prior to her new gig, Predeoux was a top lobbyist at the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), a union that represents hundreds of thousands of government workers. The waiver granted to Predeoux allows her to now work on issues for which she used to lobby.

The goal of Protect the Public's Trust is to highlight the line separating the work of the executive branch on behalf of the American public from policies that will be influenced by officials hopping from special interest groups to the federal government. For Chamberlain, a waiver like the one for Predeoux blurs that line almost beyond recognition.

"[W]as the waiver given because it's helping to defend the government's attempt to pursue the public's interest, or is the waiver given because they're defending the administration's attempts to advance their policy agenda?" Chamberlain asked in an interview with "Just the News AM" Tuesday.

While Predeoux's appointment and subsequent exemption has ruffled the feathers of those who believe the Biden administration is already inappropriately indebted to labor unions, Chamberlain says the bigger picture issue is public trust in government and its motivations. 

"There's already a lack of trust in the government, it's at its lowest level ever, in history," he said. "And so, these kinds of things don't instill further trust" in government.

Revolving door and conflict-of-interest rules "exist to maintain public confidence that their government is not making decisions arbitrarily or based on inappropriate biases," according to Protect the Public's Trust's website.

When the rules are changed, said Chamberlain, it "gives the public cause to take a look and say, 'Does government really work for the public, or does it work for these large well-entrenched insider interests in Washington?'"

Michael Regan is another exception to the established ethics rules. A former official at the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, Regan is now serving as the Biden administration's administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Due to Regan's work on several significant environmental projects in North Carolina, in his new position there will naturally be a number of issues from which he is ethically required to keep a distance.

The waiver granted to Regan is a reverse-engineered "blanket," through which "he's able to work on issues that involve the state of North Carolina," Chamberlain said. But "instead of looking at those [issues] on a case-by-case basis," he explained, "they've identified particular cases that he worked on personally and substantially that he's barred from working on." That policy, he argued, creates more, not fewer, potential ethical controversies that could ensnare Regan.

 

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