By Andrew Wyner
The Sunlight Foundation recently released an analysis finding that since July 2009, at least 377 former House of Representatives staffers left their respective congressional offices to become registered lobbyists. POGO has long been concerned about the revolving door phenomenon, and Sunlight's analysis sheds light on its continued prevalence on the Hill.
Sunlight found that of the 377 staffers, nearly 82 percent joined lobbying firms, corporations, or business associations, while a meager 10 percent lobbied on behalf of non-profit advocacy groups. 156 staffers joined lobbying firms, 80 joined corporations, and 72 joined business associations, giving these groups connections to important Members of Congress and House committees.
Not highlighted in the report, however, is that of the 80 former House staffers who left to lobby on behalf of corporations, at least 19 went to top 100 government contractors (as compiled by POGO in its Federal Contractor Misconduct Database). According to Sunlight's analysis, three staffers went to AT&T, two to Boeing, two to United Technologies, and two to ITT Industries. Former staffers also went to Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and KBR, among other firms.
Before joining these firms, most of the 19 former staffers worked in personal offices. Many of these staffers ultimately left the Hill to lobby for firms with a special interest in House committees on which each staffer's respective congressperson was a member.
For instance, Rep. Yvette Clarke's (D-NY) chief of staff, Nigel Stephens, left the Hill to lobby for Accenture -- a firm that routinely wins massive Homeland Security Department contracts. Stephens' former boss, Rep. Clarke, sits on the House Committee on Homeland Security.
In another example, Benjamin Abrams, once the deputy chief of staff for former Representative Frank Kratovil (D-MD), left his congressional office to work as a lobbyist for Northrop Grumman. Rep. Kratovil was a member of the House Armed Services Committee, a position that Abrams could potentially use to give Northrop an advantage when dealing with the Committee -- whether in soliciting funding for certain programs or pushing for legislation.
It wasn't just staffers in personal offices who left Congress to lobby directly for top contractors. AT&T, Boeing, and ITT all employed former Committee on Appropriations staffers as lobbyists in recent years, giving their firms direct advantages to receive federal money. Another staffer worked on the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure before joining Rockwell Collins, a firm that provides aviation and information technology systems and services to government agencies.
Aside from staffers who went to top 100 contracting firms, others went to lobbying firms that represent contractors. Five former staffers went to Patton Boggs, a lobbying firm that represents both Northrop and AECOM. Another staffer went to Clark, Lytle & Geduldig, a firm that represents AT&T, KPMG, and Deloitte & Touche.
"The revolving door is a complicated issue. People should be able to earn a living, but ex-government officials should not be allowed to cash in on their former positions at the expense of the public interest," said POGO Investigator Neil Gordon. "Federal conflict of interest and ethics laws need to be strengthened and consistently enforced so that a proper balance can be maintained."
House staffers have a one-year cooling off period in which they may not lobby or attempt to influence Members of Congress.
Andrew Wyner is a POGO intern.