By Robert Faturechi, ProPublica, and Danielle Ivory,
New York Times
This story was co-published with The New York Times
D.C.) -- President
Trump entered office pledging to cut red tape, and within weeks, he
administration to assemble teams to aggressively scale back government
the effort — a signature theme in Trump’s populist campaign for the
— is being conducted in large part out of public view and often by
appointees with deep industry ties and potential conflicts.
government agencies have declined to disclose information about their
deregulation teams. But ProPublica and The New York Times identified 71
appointees, including 28 with potential conflicts, through interviews,
records and documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
appointees are reviewing rules their previous employers sought to
kill, and at least two may be positioned to profit if certain
appointees include lawyers who have represented businesses in cases
government regulators, staff members of political dark money groups,
of industry-funded organizations opposed to environmental rules and at
three people who were registered to lobby the agencies they now work
the Education Department alone, two members of the deregulation team
recently employed by pro-charter advocacy groups or operators, and one
appointee was an executive handling regulatory issues at a for-profit
far, the process has been scattershot. Some agencies have been
public feedback, while others refuse even to disclose who is in charge
review. In many cases, responses to public records requests have been
delayed or severely redacted.
Department: no correspondence disclosure, no calendars
Interior Department has not disclosed the correspondence and calendars
team. But a review of more than 1,300 pages of handwritten sign-in
guests visiting the agency’s headquarters in Washington found that
had met regularly with industry representatives.
a four-month period, from February through May, at least 58
the oil and gas industry signed their names on the agency’s visitor
meeting with appointees.
EPA also rejected requests to release the appointment calendar of the
leading its team — a former top executive for an industry-funded
group — even as she met privately with industry representatives.
the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security provided
titles for most appointees to their review teams, but not names.
asked for comment about the activities of the deregulation teams, the
House referred reporters to the Office of Management and Budget.
Burris, a spokeswoman there, said: “As previous administrations have
recognized, it’s good government to periodically reassess existing
Past regulatory review efforts, however, have not taken a consistent
look at regulations on the books.”
dollars are on the table
billions of dollars at stake in the push to deregulate, corporations
industry groups are hiring lawyers, lobbyists and economists to help
this new avenue for influence. Getting to the front of the line is
it can take years to effect regulatory changes.
will be fierce,” the law firm Clark Hill, which represents businesses
the Environmental Protection Agency, said in a marketing memo. “In all
likelihood, interested parties will need to develop a multi-pronged
expand support and win pre-eminence over competing regulatory rollback
Luxton, a lawyer at the firm, said she advised clients to pay for
legal analyses that government agencies, short on staff, could use to
changes. She declined to identify the clients.
may say this is an agency’s job, but the agencies are totally
a cloudy, humid day in March, Laura Peterson, a top lobbyist for Syngenta,
arrived at the headquarters for the Interior Department. She looped the
“L” across the agency’s sign-in sheet.
company, a top pesticide maker based in Switzerland, had spent eight
millions of dollars lobbying the Obama administration on environmental
with limited success.
Peterson had an in with the new administration.
Cameron, newly installed at the Interior Department and a member of its
deregulation team, had just left a nonprofit he had founded. He had
getting pesticides approved and out to market faster. His group counted
Syngenta as a financial partner.
meeting with Peterson was one of the first Cameron took as a new
side would reveal what was discussed. “I’m not sure that’s reporting
information I have to give you,” Peterson said.
lobbying records offered clues.
has been one of several pesticide manufacturers pushing for changes to
Endangered Species Act. When federal agencies take actions that may
endangered animals or plants, they are generally supposed to consult
Interior Department, which could raise objections.
decades, the EPA largely ignored this provision when approving new
But recently, a legal challenge from environmental groups forced its
hand — a
change that affected Syngenta.
lobbyists have been working behind the scenes at agencies and on
to change the provision. Companies have argued that they should be
consulting with the Interior Department because they already undergo
with spending millions of dollars on lobbying, they have funded
aligned with their cause. Cameron’s nonprofit, the Reduce Risks From
Species Coalition, was one such group for Syngenta.
organization says on its website that its goals include reducing “the
regulatory burden of the Endangered Species Act on American society by
addressing invasive species.” One way to do that is to use pesticides.
nonprofit’s mission includes creating “business opportunities for
products and services used to control invasive species.”
donations are not publicly reported, it is unclear how much Syngenta
contributed to Cameron’s organization, but his group has called the
company one of its “generous
also served on a committee of experts and stakeholders, including
that advised the federal government on decisions related to invasive
At a committee event last July, he said that one of his priorities was
biocontrol agents to market faster,” according to meeting minutes.
Minehart, a Syngenta spokesman, said: “Employees regularly engage with
government that relate to agriculture and our business. Our purpose is
balance serving the public health and environment with enabling
spokeswoman for the Interior Department did not respond to questions
Cameron’s relationship with Syngenta might influence his review of
the law, members of the Trump administration can seek ethics waivers to
issues that overlap with their past business careers. They can also
recuse themselves when potential conflicts arise.
many cases, the administration has refused to say whether appointees to
deregulation teams have done either.
such appointee is Samantha Dravis, the chairwoman of the deregulation
the EPA, who was a top official at the Republican Attorneys General
Association. Dravis was also president of the Rule of Law Defense Fund,
brought together energy companies and Republican attorneys general to
lawsuits against the federal government over Obama-era environmental
Republican association’s work has
been criticized as a vehicle for corporate donors to gain the
and expertise of state attorneys general in fighting federal
Donors include the American Petroleum Institute, the energy company
ConocoPhillips and the coal giant Alpha Natural Resources.
Republican association also received funding from Freedom Partners,
the conservative billionaires Charles G. and David H. Koch. Dravis
that group as well, which recently identified regulations
it wants eliminated. Among them are EPA rules relating to
protections and restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions.
Bowman, an EPA spokeswoman, declined to say whether Dravis had recused
from issues dealing with previous employers or their backers, or had
regulations with any of them.
you will find when you receive Samantha’s calendar, she has met with a
stakeholders, including nonprofits, industry groups and others, on a
of issues,” Bowman said.
said the calendar could be obtained through a public records request.
ProPublica and The Times had already filed a request for records
calendars, but the agency’s response did not include those documents.
appeal was filed, but the calendar has not yet been released.)
take our ethics responsibilities seriously,” Bowman said. “All
have had an ethics briefing and know their obligations.”
the agency’s regulatory efforts, she said, “We are here to enact a
environmental agenda that provides real results to the American people,
unnecessarily hamstringing our economy.”
Agriculture & Energy Departments
the Agriculture Department, the only known appointee to the
is Rebeckah Adcock. She previously lobbied the department as a top
both at CropLife America, a trade association for pesticide makers, and
American Farm Bureau Federation, a trade group for farmers.
department deals with many issues involving farmers, including crop
and land conservation rules, but it would not disclose whether Adcock
recused herself from discussions affecting her past employers.
the Energy Department, a member of the deregulation team is Brian
who formerly handled political and external affairs for Edison Electric
Institute, a trade association representing investor-owned electrical
there, McCormack worked
with the American Legislative Exchange Council, an
Both organizations fought against rooftop solar policies in statehouses
the country. Utility companies lose money when customers generate their
power, even more so when they are required to pay consumers who send
energy back into the grid.
the Energy Department does not directly regulate electrical utilities,
help oversee international electricity trade, the promotion of
and the security of domestic energy production. After joining the
McCormack helped start a review of the nation’s electrical grid,
an agency memo.
advocates fear the inquiry will cast solar energy, which can fluctuate,
threat to grid reliability. Such a finding could scare off state public
commissions considering solar policies and serve as a boon for
utilities, said Matt Kasper, research director at the Energy and Policy
Institute, an environmental group.
records show that while McCormack was at Edison, the trade group
federal government, including the Energy Department, on issues
department would not answer questions about McCormack’s involvement
from ethics rules
the government, at least two appointees to deregulation teams have been
waivers from ethics rules related to prior jobs, and at least nine
pledged to recuse themselves from issues related to former employers or
of the recusals involve appointees at the Small Business Administration
Education Department, including Bob Eitel, who leads the education team
vice president for regulatory legal services at an operator of
recusal involves Byron Brown, an EPA appointee who is married to a
government affairs manager for the Hess Corporation, the oil and gas
was fined and ordered to spend more than $45 million on pollution
the EPA during the Obama administration because of alleged Clean Air
violations at its refinery in Port Reading, N.J. Disclosure records
Brown’s wife, Lesley Schaaff, lobbied the EPA last year on behalf of
EPA spokeswoman declined to say whether Brown or Schaaff owned Hess
though an agency ethics official said Brown had recused himself from
regulations affecting the company.
agency declined to say whether Brown would also recuse himself from
affecting the American Petroleum Institute, where his wife’s company is
member. The association has lobbied to ease Obama-era natural gas
complaining in a recent letter to Brown’s team about an “unprecedented
federal regulatory actions targeting our industry.”
being selected to lead the deregulation team at the Department of
Urban Development, Maren Kasper was a director at Roofstock, an online
marketplace for investors in single-family rental properties. Financial
disclosure records show Kasper owned a stake in the company worth up to
at HUD could increase investor interest in rental homes, affecting a
like Roofstock. The agency, for example, oversees the federal
Section 8 subsidies program for low-income renters.
officials allowed Kasper to keep her stake, but she pledged not to take
that would affect it. (A spokesman for HUD said Kasper’s tenure on the
deregulation task force has since ended.)
by one, scientists, educators and environmental activists approached
microphone and urged government officials not to weaken regulations
protect children from lead.
forum, run by the EPA in a drab basement meeting room in Washington,
of the agency’s push to identify regulations that were excessive and
businesspeople showed up. As public hearings on regulations have played
recent weeks, many industry and corporate representatives have instead
Trump administration officials behind closed doors.
the EPA has asked for written comments and held about a dozen public
The agency has received more than 467,000 comments, many of them
potential rollbacks, but also some from businesses large and small
relief from regulatory costs or confusion.
Lead in paint
the consistency of grits
a quiet moment at the meeting to discuss lead regulations, the owner of
painting company, Brian McCracken, moved to the microphone.
was frustrated by what he described as costly rules that forced him to
lead-based paint in homes before he could begin painting. Each test kit
about $2, and he may need six per room. If a family then declines to
those costs come out of his pocket.
don’t think anyone is sitting here saying that lead-based dust does not
children,” he said. “That’s not what we are talking about. What the
needs is a better way to test.”
voice quavered: “Why do I have to educate the general public about the
that generations before me created? It doesn’t make sense at all.”
is not the first president to take on such frustrations.
Bill Clinton declared the federal government was failing to regulate
imposing unacceptable or unreasonable costs on society.” He assigned
President Al Gore to collect agencies’ suggestions for rules that
One rule dictated how to measure the consistency of grits.
George W. Bush’s regulatory overhaul focused more on how new
created. The administration installed a political appointee inside each
who generally had to sign off before any significant new rule could be
initiated. At the EPA for a time, that official came from an
Barack Obama ordered regular updates from each agency about the
of rules already on the books.
you raise the profile, when it’s clearly an executive priority, it gets
attention,” said Heather Krause, director of strategic issues at the
Accountability Office, the main auditor of the federal government.
the auditor’s analysis, the effect under Obama was mostly to clarify
streamline rules, not eliminate them.
Bush, Trump has empowered political appointees. Though some agencies
included career staff members on their review teams, an executive order
Trump creating the teams does not require it — nonpolitical employees
believed to be more wedded to existing rules. And like Obama, Trump has
regular reporting requirements.
Trump, who spent his business career on the other side of government
regulations, has put an emphasis on cutting old rules.
same day he signed the executive order initiating the review, he
large crowd of conservative activists at a Maryland convention center.
have begun a historic program to reduce the regulations that are
economy — crushing,” Trump said. “We’re going to put the regulations
out of work and out of business.”
Narang, a regulatory expert at the liberal advocacy group Public
Trump’s decision to create teams of political appointees — formally
regulatory reform task forces — should make it easier for the White
overcome bureaucratic resistance to his rollback plans.
the extent there’s a deep state effect in this administration,” Narang
“the task force will be more effective in trying to get the agenda in
New York Times’ Kitty Bennett contributed reporting to this story.
you know anything about these task forces, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Signal at 213–271–7217. See
who we know about
and who we don’t.
report originally ran at ProPublica and is reprinted here with
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in the public interest.
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recipient of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for public service, the 2016
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and a 2010 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting.
This story was co-published with The
New York Times