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Thursday, March 21, 2019

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica.

When President Trump ordered federal agencies to form teams to dismantle government regulations, the Transportation Department turned to people with deep industry ties.

One appointee had previously lobbied the department on behalf of American Airlines. Another held executive roles for several electric and hybrid car companies regulated by the department. A third was a lawyer who represented United Airlines in regulatory matters.

The three appointees have been identified by ProPublica and The New York Times in a continuing effort to track members of the deregulation teams. The appointments, previously unreported, follow a pattern identified by the two news organizations: By and large, the Trump administration has stacked the teams with political appointees, some of whom may be reviewing rules their former employers sought to weaken or kill.

A full vetting of industry connections has been difficult because some agencies have declined to provide information about the appointees — not even their names.

The lack of transparency has concerned several top Democratic members of Congress who serve on committees that oversee regulatory matters. In a letter to the White House on Monday, they called on the administration to release the names of all regulatory team members as well as documents relating to their potential conflicts of interest.

“It is unacceptable for federal agencies to operate in such a clandestine and unaccountable manner especially when the result could be the undoing of critical public health and safety protections,” Representatives Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, Gerald E. Connolly of Virginia and David Cicilline of Rhode Island wrote in the letter.

The congressmen cited a recent investigation by ProPublica and The New York Times revealing that members of the deregulation teams have included lawyers who represented businesses in cases against government regulators, staff members of political dark money groups and employees of industry-funded organizations opposed to environmental rules.

Since the publication of that investigation last month, the news organizations have identified more than a dozen other appointees through interviews, public records and reader tips — including the three appointees to the deregulation team at the Transportation Department.

In all, there are now 85 known current and former team members, including 34 with potential conflicts. At least two of the appointees may be positioned to profit if certain regulations are undone and at least four were registered to lobby the agencies they now work for.

One Transportation appointee, Daniel Elwell, was previously a top lobbyist for American Airlines who sought to influence the Transportation Department. He also held executive positions with the Aerospace Industries Association, a trade group representing aerospace and defense companies, and Airlines for America, a trade association for major airlines.

The airlines group recently applauded the Transportation Department’s decision to suspend a rule that would have required airlines to provide more public information about passenger fees. The Transportation Department has estimated that airlines collected more than $4.1 billion last year in baggage fees.

A department spokesperson said Elwell left the deregulation team after being appointed as deputy administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration in June.

Another Transportation appointee, Marianne McInerney, was president of a trade group representing car dealers. She also held executive positions at several electric and hybrid automotive companies.

The department has oversight over some rules affecting electric cars. For example, this year it delayed new safety requirements that would have forced the vehicles, which are normally quiet, to make a minimum amount of noise to catch the attention of nearby pedestrians.

A third Transportation appointee, Jonathan Moss, was previously managing director of international and regulatory affairs at United Airlines. One of his top responsibilities at the airline, which is regulated by the Transportation Department, was “anticipating and responding to proposed regulations affecting United’s operations.”

Moss also served at the department during the Obama administration. An agency spokeswoman said all deregulation team members had signed agreements requiring them to recuse themselves from issues that narrowly affect recent employers.

The deregulation teams are part of Trump’s push to cut red tape across government, and they have presented a new avenue for industries to shed rules they have argued for years are hurting profits, depressing job creation and raising prices. Environmental, consumer and other liberal groups have argued that such regulations protect the public, keeping drinking water clean and roads safe, for example.

In the recent past, presidents from both parties have entered office pledging to scrutinize regulations, but Trump’s order goes further, putting a premium on cutting rules and empowering teams of political appointees who are typically less wedded to an agency’s existing guidelines.

The agencies have also been opaque about their deregulation teams.

The Justice Department has released the names of only two appointees currently working on its team. In an email exchange, a spokesman, Ian Prior, said he could not provide additional names because “the Task Force is made up of components, not particular employees.”

“A component may have multiple employees assisting with the work,” he added.

Asked if he could name any of those employees, he responded, “Decline.”

The Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security provided only the titles for most appointees to their review teams, not the names.

In their letter to the White House, the Democratic lawmakers suggested that withholding names could violate the Freedom of Information Act.

“These Task Forces must have an effective and transparent guard against conflicts of interest, especially those in which industry lobbyists seek to overturn environmental and health protections for financial gain,” wrote the lawmakers, who are the ranking Democrats on the House’s Committee on Oversight and Government Reform; Committee on the Judiciary; Subcommittee on Government Operations; and Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law.

“It appears,” the letter continued, “that the current Task Forces are already failing on this front, and instead are actively hiding their members and their meetings from public view.”

The letter was addressed to Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Neomi Rao, the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which vets regulatory changes coming out of federal agencies.

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27 responses to “Secrecy And Suspicion Surround Trump’s Deregulation Teams”

  1. Dominick Vila says:

    The fact that greedy, irresponsible, businessmen love Trump’s decision to cancel all the EOs promoted and signed by President Obama’s to protect the environment, consumers, and promote safety in the workplace, is obvious. They love the return to the days when Allied Chemical dumped tons of Kepone on a River where local authorities had to post sign warning people not to throw cigarette butts in it because they river would catch on fire. That’s the environment that Trump is championing, and that 33% of Americans support. Concern over mines collapsing as a result of greedy owners cutting corners is not a subject of consideration. Banks defrauding customers is not a big deal for them. The only thing that matters is poking a finger in President Obama’s eye, and making an extra buck. I can’t help wonder what these boos will say when the economy collapses, budget deficits skyrocket, and our environment is so polluted that it becomes a hazard to our health. Who will they blame? Anyone but Trump and those who support his greedy, vindictive, and irresponsible actions.

    • Juliatbattle says:

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    • dpaano says:

      I agree; however, the unfortunate part is that Trump won’t suffer…..he’ll be living in his ivory tower in New York, or he’ll move to a country that isn’t polluted, along with his other rich buddies! The rest of us will be left to suffer HIS consequences!

  2. idamag says:

    There is one way that we will no longer need government regulations. If the people become 100% honest, caring and responsible for something besides themselves. Since they are not, we must look to the government for protection.

    • Eleanore Whitaker says:

      I worked with environmental engineers for nearly 25 years as their tech writer and accounting manager. If there is one thing I observed in all that time, it is how industries try desperately to sneak out of compliance regulations.

      I’ll give you an example. Back in 1971, one NJ company was spewing all manner of industrial chemicals into the soil on their property. The chemicals were zinc and methacrylates. Both highly carcinogenic. They contact our company for environmental consulting assistance ONLY when the NJ Supreme Court in 1980 demanded they cease and desist. To make it appear they were complying, they hired our company and supplied the courts with proof they were “working on compliance.” They lied. The minute our staff of experts told the company it had to purchase an industrial pollution control, they decided they didn’t need our services. This went on for nearly 15 years before our company owner told them to stop contacting us unless they intended to comply with NJDEP regulations.

      The crux of this is that this non compliance resulted in defoliation of nearly 50 acres beyond their property line and destruction of 25 artesan water wells nearby that supplied water to several other towns.

      Government is supposed to keep and maintain order. Anything less becomes a chaotic society where it’s every man for himself.

      • idamag says:

        This is a coincidence. My training was technical writing. There never were any jobs, at first, for technical writers, but the hospital that I worked at had me write all their manuals. I worked in the environmental services department.The hospital hired an outside firm to manage that department and when the firm lost the contract, they hired me. My last job was with the state and I wrote all the manuals there, even thought I was in charge of revenue. There are many war stories, like yours, out there. We had a business, here, dumping PCBs into the ground. There is a small community of around 1000 people who live about 40 miles from here. They build a housing addition and people in 1 of 5 houses got cancer. This drew the attention of the EPA and they analyzed the ground the houses were built on. It seems that it used to be a place where farmers dumped chemicals and the entire area was carcinogenic. Monsanto built a plant 100 miles from here and when they left, they left the ground and water polluted. Simplots poisoned the air around Pocatello for years. They also had a processing plant in a small community 7 miles from here. Several employees and former employees developed kidney cancer.

        • Eleanore Whitaker says:

          I’m not really surprised at your writing background. It shows in your posts.

          That company in NJ was fined by a guy who was a friend of mine, a NJ circuit court judge. I worked with his then girlfriend, who was a tech recruiter and management consultant in her mother’s firm.

          To my knowledge, there are several lawsuits already that are defying the Trump EPA.

          One might suppose that if Kim Jung Un is planning to get even with Trump, why worry about pollution when radiation fall out might do all of us in.

          • idamag says:

            That is true. If oly Kim Jong Un knew that trump is agitating him in order to start a war. He would not play into that amoral dummy’s hands.

          • Eleanore Whitaker says:

            From BBC, I’m seeing that already the Canadian Prime Minister is meeting with Kim Jung Un. That makes sense. This young, amazingly intelligent Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, knows that cooler heads must prevail when two mentally defective like minds are about to cancel out humanity.

            In a peculiar way, I can imagine that PM Trudeau is wondering why he has to play referee for the US. I’d bet anything he longs for the days when Obama was president.

            Trump and Jung Un are mentally ill men who cannot be reasoned with. The inability to be reasoned with is a sure sign of mental illness.

          • idamag says:

            I’m sure that Canada has to consider what a nuclear conflagration would do to their country. I just saw an excerpt from a scientific journal On Crooks and Liars. This is a world wide journal. It states that North Korea does not have the capability to send a missile to the United States. They are improving. Also a Chinese newspaper says that if the United States attacks North Korea, they will have to support North Korea. If North Korea attacks the United States they will support the United States. If the entire world gets nuclear weapons, then the only salvation for civilization would be civilization. We would be safer with treaties and dialogue.

          • Eleanore Whitaker says:

            The reason I place less importance on US media these days is because it is too much work to figure out if the right wing and Russians hacked it.

            It is true foreign media can also be hacked but, for some odd reason, it happens far less frequently than here in the US or so I am told by several Canadian friends.

            That posted, BBC just this week reported that several foreign leaders in the UK, Germany and other US allies are requesting meetings with North Korea to try and make KJU understand that Trump is blowing smoke out of his “arse” and that he only wants war with North Korea to keep him president “in a time of war.”

            BBC also interviewed a Korean born journalist, Sue Mi Terry, an expert on North Korea.
            Ref: https://www.uscc.gov/sites/default/files/Bio_Terry.pdf.

            During her interview with Rachel Maddow this week, she was asked if the North Koreans have the capability of ICBM miniaturized missiles.
            Ref: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nr3QlYqWZ-8

    • 788eddie says:

      Thanks, ida. You are soooo right on this.

    • dpaano says:

      Hopefully, we can’t look to THIS government because they are the least honest, caring, and responsible!

      • idamag says:

        I should have put that in past tense. One time we could look to the government for protection against the greedy.

        • Eleanore Whitaker says:

          If there is one thing we Main Street Americans can count on about the greedy, it is that because their belief in limitless wealth is all consuming, they never see the cliff until they are about to fall over it.

          Anyone who thinks money is endless hasn’t lived very long.

  3. Aaron_of_Portsmouth says:

    As many already ascertained and foresaw, the Cabinet Trump chose was clearly chosen to serve one agenda, and one only—to help benefit those who least needed to be benefited. That is, the already excessively rich and influential. Humanity has some inborn fascination with hierarchy, going back the moment humans began to walk upright, to communicate verbally, and form societies.
    Those of us who settled in Europe, and given the path of social evolution that the resources available in minerals and other natural resources afforded, has resulted in a culture obsessed with material possession. Trump and his Cabinet are perfect mirrors, reflecting in words and deeds the dangers of obsession with acquiring wealth. And to that end, deregulation is a major key in fulfilling the greed and ambitions of Trump, his Cabinet, and so many others in politics who favor unfettered access to the right to destroy the environment in order to maximize profit.

  4. As many already ascertained and foresaw, the Cabinet Trump chose was clearly chosen to serve one agenda, and one only—to help benefit those who least needed to be benefited. That is, the already excessively rich and influential. Humanity has some inborn fascination with hierarchy, going back the moment humans began to walk upright, to communicate verbally, and form societies.

    Those of our “cousins” who settled in Europe were presented with factors, like physical resources, an invigorating climate, and access to animal stock more amenable for breeding. These factors would help shape a unique society, including the development of certain intellectual and artistic pursuits given the leisure time and a more salubrious climate. And certain unique social qualities and mannerisms would evolve in this cultural/climactic matrix. One particular mannerism, and it turns out a particularly odious one, is an inordinate love affair with the pursuit of acquiring material wealth. To further that goal’ along with our natural desire to explore, the available resources, and access to the ocean would usher in an era of Discovery in which this pursuit could by carried out and benefits derived in plenty by plundering the resources of those unable to adequately defend themselves against the more aggressive and technologically evolved “cousins”. This social path would also pave the way for materialism and similar philosophies to evolve to justify this avid pursuit of acquiring goods and become wealthy.

    And tragically, the Religious institution, as well as the already-subsumed secular institutions, would allow itself to be immersed in this ocean of materialism. Thereby leading to the eclipse of the then and now status quo Religious institutions., and the parallel

    Trump and his Cabinet are perfect mirrors of this acquired cultural adaptation, reflecting in words and deeds the dangers of obsession with acquiring wealth.

    And to that end, deregulation is a major key in fulfilling the greed and ambitions of Trump, his Cabinet, and so many others in politics who favor unfettered access to the right to destroy the environment in order to maximize profit.

    ———————————————————————————————————-
    “O Son of Being! Busy not thyself with this world. For with fire We test the gold, and with gold We test Our servants”.
    ———————————————————————————————————

    This aphorism by Baha’u’llah is a warning, not to eschew “gold” and the acquisition of material goods, but to test our resolve in restraining ourselves from becoming obsessed and preoccupied with possessing such things.

    • Eleanore Whitaker says:

      So Trump leases a government building from the US government that taxpayers paid for and turns it into an exclusive DC hotel where he gets to profit from every guest who books and stays there? How isn’t that conflict of interest?

      The emoluments clause is specific: NO government employee is allowed to use their office as a means to make a profit.

      • dpaano says:

        Tell it to the GSA…it was up to them whether or not he would be allowed to keep the hotel in DC. Apparently, they decided in his favor, of course.

        • Eleanore Whitaker says:

          That’s because the morons assumed Trump plays by the rule of government, not the rules of Trump. They assumed he would disclose his tax records and divest himself of his business as other presidents have done.

          Now, they are stuck with this nutbagger who makes up rules as he goes and makes them disappear when they back him into a corner. The guy is unworthy of being called a human. He has no morals, no ethics, no principles and continue to repeat how he is the biglest, mostest, estiest est different president who doesn’t do things like 44 others were required to do.

          This just adds one more notch of destruction to the Republican Party. They wanted a president they thought would play be THEIR rules…wow…how stupid could they be?

          To show what a rabid animal he is, he’s ready to use nuclear war as a way of stopping anyone from nailing his ass to the wall..Picture a hunted animal backed into a corner, snarling, baring its teeth and foaming at the mouth.

    • dpaano says:

      Aaron….I recently read a story about how much gold and riches are stored in the Vatican….they don’t even KNOW how much is there, but it’s quite considerable. Why does a particular religion need all that is beyond me! What happened to preaching the gospel because of your love of the savior and not your love of the almighty dollar!

  5. bobnstuff says:

    I have no real problem with bringing people in from the industries that are being regulated as experts. At least they have some understanding of what the rules are and the effect of them on the industry. My Uncle work for years in the manufacturing end of the transportation industry , both auto’s and rail. He went to work for the TSA and I’m very sure he did his best looking out for the American people. The real problem here is transparency. We need to know who these people are on these boards and what they are doing. Why our present government feel they can do the peoples business behind closed doors amazes me. The only good thing right now is to remove a regulation that has been in place for a while they have to go through the same steps as passing it in the first place.

    • Eleanore Whitaker says:

      The point is that bringing in people from industries who are practiced in flying under legal radar means profit for them at our expense. Is that what our tax dollars are for? To make more billionaires?

      Trump isn’t looking out for the people of this country. He only ever looks out for himself. That’s the major lie he tells those hicks in the Republican states he knows lap up his grandiose propaganda platform of being their savior.

      They are removing regulations that are in place for the safety of Americans in Penthouses…not Americans on main street.

  6. dpaano says:

    Typical Trump “transparency.” I don’t think he even knows the meaning of the word. These individuals are working to affect our lives, and, yet, we don’t even have any way of knowing who they are and what they represent! This is NOT the Democracy that we’re used to!

  7. Richard Prescott says:

    Trump and some of the GOP have only one thing in mind. It is NOT removal of old regulations to replace with more updated ones. It is removal of anything that some companies complain are costing them.
    And it doesn’t matter that removal will hurt people using their services or products. It only matters that someone gets to put more money into already overly fat pockets.

  8. johninPCFL says:

    The Koch brothers can live anywhere in the world, so converting the USA into a 1970’s East German coal town doesn’t bother them in the least.

  9. The lucky one says:

    I fully support the effort to enforce transparency and accountability the rogue Trump administration but some of the regs they are trying to change are ridiculous. fir instance: “new safety requirements that would have forced the vehicles, which are normally quiet, to make a minimum amount of noise to catch the attention of nearby pedestrians.”

    How about pedestrians get off their phones and pay more attention to their surroundings.

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