As Congress and the White House consider reforms to the U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS) in the aftermath of the Gulf oil spill disaster, it's worth acknowledging that the executive branch has already taken one important step towards curbing one of the most troubling problems at the agency, the issue of the revolving door.
On January 21, 2009, President Obama issued an executive order requiring appointees to sign a list of ethics commitments, including a commitment not to lobby any executive branch officials for the remainder of the Administration. Since the early 2000s, several presidential appointees in the Department of the Interior, which houses the MMS, have joined the ranks of the industry they oversaw. J. Steven Griles, former Deputy Secretary, and William Gerry Myers III, the former solicitor, went on to become industry lobbyists. More recently, the previous two directors of the MMS were hired as successive presidents for an industry trade group. And last but certainly not least, former Interior Secretary Gale Norton was hired as general counsel for Royal Dutch Shell PLC. The Department of Justice (DOJ) is now investigating whether Norton illegally used her to position to help secure the award of three lucrative oil shale leases to a Shell subsidiary.
The Obama ethics pledge represents a step towards tackling this problem, and helps ensure that former officials don't use their careers as civil servants to amplify the will of special interests in public policy. As POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian recently noted on The Rachel Maddow Show, requiring this ethics pledge may be one of the most important actions taken by the Obama Administration.
-- Bryan Rahija