[By Nick Schwellenbach]
For the past two weeks, POGO staffers have worked around the clock to produce our Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) revolving door report and database, aiming for a release on the day after our 30th anniversary celebration—today. I want to acknowledge the hard work everyone on the POGO team put into this report—we worked on a tight timeline and pulled off a complicated, hard-hitting investigative product that I believe will provide a great public service. The public can now see five years’ worth of information collected by the SEC from former employees who intended to represent firms before the Commission. Before our database, you had to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and wait many months to see this information. But I digress…
Before the rush of the last two weeks, there was a lot of underlying work that took place that enabled us to execute the project so quickly. POGO intern Rhya Ghose and POGO Data Specialist Johanna Mingos put in many days of hard work entering in information from nearly 800 post-government employment statements (well over 1,000 pages) filed by over 200 former SEC employees that POGO obtained through FOIA. Their challenge was complicated by the different ways that former SEC employees described the same types of information in these statements. They had to exercise substantial discretion in standardizing the names of SEC offices, divisions, and other information. They also cross-referenced separate statements to, if you will, fill out the picture as much as possible since some statements had names redacted and others did not—even if they were filed by the same former SEC employee. There also were other complicated issues with standardizing the data from these statements. These are the kinds of problems that anyone who has ever created a database from individual documents not designed to be entered into a database knows well. Check out the database methodology for the full rundown.
We were also lucky because we had an awesome team of database and web developers at Firefly Partners who took the spreadsheets created by Rhya and Johanna and turned them into a database that was searchable, sortable, and user-friendly. They started their work in April and worked up until the day before the release. A big shoutout to Jen Maceyko and Renee Dunn!
Back on the POGO side, Web Editor Pam Rutter and Blog Editor Bryan Rahija were our liaisons to Firefly and worked with them closely. They helped put the report and database online and tweaked it to make it more presentable. They make our main interface with the public—i.e. our website—work every day. (Also, massive props to them for their work on our website redesign, which went live yesterday!)
POGO Director of Operations and resident miracle-maker Keith Rutter made sure we quickly had the budget to hire Firefly and create the specialized web tools.
During a lull in her Johns Hopkins grad school finals, POGO Investigator Mandy Smithberger spent a Sunday fact-checking the report.
Danni Downing, POGO’s crackerjack editor, made sure all our copy was grammatical, well-organized, and, most importantly, readable. She tackled a 30-page report with her usual deftness and greatly improved everything in it.
As he was buried with work on another major project set to come out soon, POGO Investigator Jake Wiens fixed and standardized many of the footnotes in the report and broke a massive document into hundreds of separate .pdf files of the post-employment statements.
POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian, POGO General Counsel Scott Amey, POGO Director of Public Policy Angela Canterbury, and I all read through the report at various stages. POGO board member David Burnham, who is a co-director of the non-profit Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) and a former New York Times reporter, also had input on how to improve the report. We utilized some TRAC data in the report.
Last, but definitely not least, POGO Investigator Michael Smallberg made it his unspoken motto the last few weeks that he’ll “sleep when he’s dead.” He first conceived of the project several months ago, filed the FOIA request to obtain the documents, conducted the analysis of the statements, did tremendous amounts of research, and wrote and rewrote the report many times. He did the work of three people in an amazingly short amount of time. What he’s produced will help improve oversight of one of the federal government’s key financial oversight organizations. An effective and ethical SEC is critical to avoiding future financial meltdowns and maintaining investor confidence in the markets. Michael deserves massive credit for his herculean efforts to keep the people who work for the regulators as well as the regulated (and those who go back and forth between them) honest and accountable.
I think I’ve caught everyone—many, many apologies to anyone I missed. Everyone’s work is greatly appreciated and, like every POGO project, it truly was a team effort.
Nick Schwellenbach is POGO's Director of Investigations.