With the departure of Defense Secretary James Mattis, industry lobbyists now make up four of President Trump’s cabinet secretaries.
The New York Times’ Eric Lipton reminded his followers Wednesday that secretaries for several of the most important agencies the executive branch of the federal government — like the Departments of Defense, Interior, and Health and Human Services — are lobbyists for the industries those agencies are ostensibly supposed to be regulating.
As of Thursday, DOD will be run by a former senior Boeing executive. EPA is run by a former coal lobbyist. HHS is run by a former pharmaceutical lobbyist. And Interior will be run by a former oil-industry lobbyist. Welcome to 2019.
— Eric Lipton (@EricLiptonNYT) January 3, 2019
Since Trump has been president, Boeing has spent approximately $28 million lobbying Congress. This has resulted in many lucrative deals for the aerospace contractor, most recently winning a $400 million contract to build B-1 and B-52 bombers just before the end of 2018, according to Reuters. To his credit, Patrick Shanahan — the acting Secretary of Defense — recused himself Wednesday from matters involving his former employer.
However, other cabinet secretaries haven’t made similar recusals despite their actions having a direct impact on the companies that used to write them large paychecks. Acting Environmental Protection Agency administrator Andrew Wheeler is a former coal industry lobbyist who now heads the agency charged with imposing regulations on the coal industry to protect the environment. Just days after Christmas, Wheeler proposed a new rule change that would allow for more mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants.
Former Interior secretary Ryan Zinke has also left his post, paving the way for former oil industry lobbyist David Bernhardt to lead the agency tasked with protecting public lands. And Alex Azar, who has headed the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) since 2018, is a former lobbyist for pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly. He has done little to stop the wave of increases in drug prices since taking the helm at HHS, including new price hikes set to take place in 2019.
President Trump has seen an incredibly high turnover rate for cabinet secretaries since becoming president. The State Department and the Department of Justice have seen new secretaries in the past year. In addition, other agency chiefs from the Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs, to the EPA, the CIA, and the Offices of the National Security Adviser and the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, have also seen turnover in the past year.
Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.