Ann Mulkern, “When advocates become regulators,“ Denver Post, May 23, 2004: “President Bush has installed more than 100 top officials who were once lobbyists, attorneys or spokespeople for the industries they oversee.”
Daniel E. Troy, lead counsel for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, extended the government’s help in torpedoing certain lawsuits. Among Troy’s targets: claims that medications caused devastating and unexpected side effects.
Pitch us lawsuits that we might get involved in, Troy told several hundred pharmaceutical attorneys, some of them old friends and acquaintances from his previous role representing major U.S. pharmaceutical firms.
The offer by the FDA’s top attorney, made Dec. 15 at the Plaza Hotel, took the agency responsible for food and drug safety into new territory.
“The FDA is now in the business of helping lawsuit defendants, specifically the pharmaceutical companies,” said James O’Reilly, University of Cincinnati law professor and author of a book on the history of the FDA. “It’s a dramatic change in what the FDA has done in the past.”
Troy’s switch from industry advocate to industry regulator overseeing his former clients is a hallmark of President Bush’s administration.
Troy is one of more than 100 high-level officials under Bush who helped govern industries they once represented as lobbyists, lawyers or company advocates, a Denver Post analysis shows.
In at least 20 cases, those former industry advocates have helped their agencies write, shape or push for policy shifts that benefit their former industries. They knew which changes to make because they had pushed for them as industry advocates.
The president’s political appointees are making or overseeing profound changes affecting drug laws, food policies, land use, clean-air regulations and other key issues.
Government watchdogs call it a disturbing trend, not adequately restrained by existing ethics laws.
Among the advocates-turned-regulators are a former meat-industry lobbyist who helps decide how meat is labeled; a former drug-company lobbyist who influences prescription-drug policies; a former energy lobbyist who, while still accepting payments for bringing clients into his old lobbying firm, helps determine how much of the West those former clients can use for oil and gas drilling.
“When you go to work in lobbying, it is clearly understood and accepted that your job is to advocate for the interests of those who hired you,” said Terry L. Cooper, a University of Southern California ethics and government professor. “When you go to work in government, you are supposed to be responsible for upholding and maintaining whatever you can identify as the public interest.”
The Bush administration says the regulators were chosen for their abilities.
“The president appoints highly qualified individuals who make their decisions based on the best interests of the American people,” said White House spokesman Jim Morrell. “Any individual serving in the administration must abide by strict legal and ethical guidelines, including full disclosure of past lobbying activities.”
Six of the former industry advocates have faced ethics investigations or resigned amid conflict-of-interest charges. Those and at least 14 others have been lambasted by public-interest groups.
Government ethics standards are part of the problem because they don’t fully address the kind of issues that now permeate Washington, Cooper and some inside government say. The rules focus mainly on direct financial conflicts. Other, more nuanced conflicts aren’t addressed
“There are so many ways around, over and under these (ethics) bans … they almost never work,” said Paul Light, who for decades has studied the appointment process for the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington. “There’re more screen doors than steel doors.”