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Trump Has Secretive Teams to Roll Back Regulations, Led by Hires With Deep Industry Ties

This story was co-published with The New York Times.

 

President Trump entered office pledging to cut red tape, and within weeks, he ordered his administration to assemble teams to aggressively scale back government regulations.

 

But the effort — a signature theme in Trump's populist campaign for the White House — is being conducted in large part out of public view and often by political appointees with deep industry ties and potential conflicts.

 

Most 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, public records and documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

 

Some appointees are reviewing rules their previous employers sought to weaken or kill, and at least two may be positioned to profit if certain regulations are undone.

 

The appointees include lawyers who have represented businesses in cases against government regulators, staff members of political dark money groups, employees of industry-funded organizations opposed to environmental rules and at least three people who were registered to lobby the agencies they now work for.

 

At the Education Department alone, two members of the deregulation team were most recently employed by pro-charter advocacy groups or operators, and one appointee was an executive handling regulatory issues at a for-profit college operator.

 

So far, the process has been scattershot. Some agencies have been soliciting public feedback, while others refuse even to disclose who is in charge of the review. In many cases, responses to public records requests have been denied, delayed or severely redacted.

 

The Interior Department has not disclosed the correspondence and calendars for its team. But a review of more than 1,300 pages of handwritten sign-in sheets for guests visiting the agency's headquarters in Washington found that appointees had met regularly with industry representatives.

 

Over a four-month period, from February through May, at least 58 representatives of the oil and gas industry signed their names on the agency's visitor logs before meeting with appointees.

 

The EPA also rejected requests to release the appointment calendar of the official leading its team — a former top executive for an industry-funded political group — even as she met privately with industry representatives.

 

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

 

When asked for comment about the activities of the deregulation teams, the White House referred reporters to the Office of Management and Budget.

 

Meghan Burris, a spokeswoman there, said: "As previous administrations have recognized, it's good government to periodically reassess existing regulations. Past regulatory review efforts, however, have not taken a consistent enough look at regulations on the books."

 

With billions of dollars at stake in the push to deregulate, corporations and other industry groups are hiring lawyers, lobbyists and economists to help navigate this new avenue for influence. Getting to the front of the line is crucial, as it can take years to effect regulatory changes.

 

"Competition will be fierce," the law firm Clark Hill, which represents businesses pitching the Environmental Protection Agency, said in a marketing memo. "In all likelihood, interested parties will need to develop a multi-pronged strategy to expand support and win pre-eminence over competing regulatory rollback candidates."

 

Jane Luxton, a lawyer at the firm, said she advised clients to pay for economic and legal analyses that government agencies, short on staff, could use to expedite changes. She declined to identify the clients.

 

"You may say this is an agency's job, but the agencies are totally overloaded," Luxton said.

 

On a cloudy, humid day in March, Laura Peterson, a top lobbyist for Syngenta, arrived at the headquarters for the Interior Department. She looped the letter "L" across the agency's sign-in sheet.

 

Her company, a top pesticide maker based in Switzerland, had spent eight years and millions of dollars lobbying the Obama administration on environmental rules, with limited success.

 

But Peterson had an in with the new administration.

 

Scott Cameron, newly installed at the Interior Department and a member of its deregulation team, had just left a nonprofit he had founded. He had advocated getting pesticides approved and out to market faster. His group counted Syngenta as a financial partner.

 

The meeting with Peterson was one of the first Cameron took as a new government official.

 

Neither side would reveal what was discussed. "I'm not sure that's reporting information I have to give you," Peterson said.

 

But lobbying records offered clues.

 

Syngenta has been one of several pesticide manufacturers pushing for changes to the Endangered Species Act. When federal agencies take actions that may jeopardize endangered animals or plants, they are generally supposed to consult with the Interior Department, which could raise objections.

 

For decades, the EPA largely ignored this provision when approving new pesticides. But recently, a legal challenge from environmental groups forced its hand — a change that affected Syngenta.

 

Pesticide lobbyists have been working behind the scenes at agencies and on Capitol Hill to change the provision. Companies have argued that they should be exempt from consulting with the Interior Department because they already undergo EPA approval.

 

Along with spending millions of dollars on lobbying, they have funded advocacy groups aligned with their cause. Cameron's nonprofit, the Reduce Risks From Invasive Species Coalition, was one such group for Syngenta.

 

The 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. The nonprofit's mission includes creating "business opportunities for commercial products and services used to control invasive species."

 

Because donations are not publicly reported, it is unclear how much Syngenta has contributed to Cameron's organization, but his group has called the pesticide company one of its "generous sponsors."

Cameron also served on a committee of experts and stakeholders, including Syngenta, that advised the federal government on decisions related to invasive species. At a committee event last July, he said that one of his priorities was "getting biocontrol agents to market faster," according to meeting minutes.

 

Paul Minehart, a Syngenta spokesman, said: "Employees regularly engage with those in government that relate to agriculture and our business. Our purpose is to balance serving the public health and environment with enabling farmers' access to innovation."

 

A spokeswoman for the Interior Department did not respond to questions about how Cameron's relationship with Syngenta might influence his review of regulations.

 

Under the law, members of the Trump administration can seek ethics waivers to work on issues that overlap with their past business careers. They can also formally recuse themselves when potential conflicts arise.

 

In many cases, the administration has refused to say whether appointees to Trump's deregulation teams have done either.

 

One such appointee is Samantha Dravis, the chairwoman of the deregulation team at the EPA, who was a top official at the Republican Attorneys General Association. Dravis was also president of the Rule of Law Defense Fund, which brought together energy companies and Republican attorneys general to file lawsuits against the federal government over Obama-era environmental regulations.

 

The Republican association's work has been criticized as a vehicle for corporate donors to gain the credibility and expertise of state attorneys general in fighting federal regulations. Donors include the American Petroleum Institute, the energy company ConocoPhillips and the coal giant Alpha Natural Resources.

 

The Republican association also received funding from Freedom Partners, backed by the conservative billionaires Charles G. and David H. Koch. Dravis worked for that group as well, which recently identified regulations it wants eliminated. Among them are EPA rules relating to clean-water protections and restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions.

 

Liz Bowman, an EPA spokeswoman, declined to say whether Dravis had recused herself from issues dealing with previous employers or their backers, or had discussed regulations with any of them.

 

"As you will find when you receive Samantha's calendar, she has met with a range of stakeholders, including nonprofits, industry groups and others, on a wide range of issues," Bowman said.

 

Bowman said the calendar could be obtained through a public records request. ProPublica and The Times had already filed a request for records including calendars, but the agency's response did not include those documents. (An appeal was filed, but the calendar has not yet been released.)

 

"We take our ethics responsibilities seriously," Bowman said. "All political staff have had an ethics briefing and know their obligations."

 

Addressing the agency's regulatory efforts, she said, "We are here to enact a positive environmental agenda that provides real results to the American people, without unnecessarily hamstringing our economy."

 

At the Agriculture Department, the only known appointee to the deregulation team is Rebeckah Adcock. She previously lobbied the department as a top executive both at CropLife America, a trade association for pesticide makers, and the American Farm Bureau Federation, a trade group for farmers.

 

The department deals with many issues involving farmers, including crop insurance and land conservation rules, but it would not disclose whether Adcock had recused herself from discussions affecting her past employers.

 

At the Energy Department, a member of the deregulation team is Brian McCormack, who formerly handled political and external affairs for Edison Electric Institute, a trade association representing investor-owned electrical utilities.

 

While there, McCormack worked with the American Legislative Exchange Council, an industry-funded group. Both organizations fought against rooftop solar policies in statehouses across the country. Utility companies lose money when customers generate their own power, even more so when they are required to pay consumers who send surplus energy back into the grid.

 

Though the Energy Department does not directly regulate electrical utilities, it does help oversee international electricity trade, the promotion of renewable energy and the security of domestic energy production. After joining the department, McCormack helped start a review of the nation's electrical grid, according to an agency memo.

 

Clean-energy advocates fear the inquiry will cast solar energy, which can fluctuate, as a threat to grid reliability. Such a finding could scare off state public utility commissions considering solar policies and serve as a boon for electrical utilities, said Matt Kasper, research director at the Energy and Policy Institute, an environmental group.

 

Disclosure records show that while McCormack was at Edison, the trade group lobbied the federal government, including the Energy Department, on issues including grid reliability.

 

The department would not answer questions about McCormack's involvement with those issues.

 

Across the government, at least two appointees to deregulation teams have been granted waivers from ethics rules related to prior jobs, and at least nine others have pledged to recuse themselves from issues related to former employers or clients.

 

Some of the recusals involve appointees at the Small Business Administration and the Education Department, including Bob Eitel, who leads the education team and was vice president for regulatory legal services at an operator of for-profit colleges.

 

Another recusal involves Byron Brown, an EPA appointee who is married to a senior government affairs manager for the Hess Corporation, the oil and gas company.

 

Hess was fined and ordered to spend more than $45 million on pollution controls by the EPA during the Obama administration because of alleged Clean Air Act violations at its refinery in Port Reading, N.J. Disclosure records show that Brown's wife, Lesley Schaaff, lobbied the EPA last year on behalf of the company.

 

An EPA spokeswoman declined to say whether Brown or Schaaff owned Hess stock, though an agency ethics official said Brown had recused himself from evaluating regulations affecting the company.

 

The agency declined to say whether Brown would also recuse himself from issues affecting the American Petroleum Institute, where his wife's company is a member. The association has lobbied to ease Obama-era natural gas rules, complaining in a recent letter to Brown's team about an "unprecedented level of federal regulatory actions targeting our industry."

 

Before being selected to lead the deregulation team at the Department of Housing and 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 $50,000.

 

Changes at HUD could increase investor interest in rental homes, affecting a company like Roofstock. The agency, for example, oversees the federal government's Section 8 subsidies program for low-income renters.

 

Ethics officials allowed Kasper to keep her stake, but she pledged not to take actions that would affect it. (A spokesman for HUD said Kasper's tenure on the deregulation task force has since ended.)

 

One by one, scientists, educators and environmental activists approached the microphone and urged government officials not to weaken regulations intended to protect children from lead.

 

The forum, run by the EPA in a drab basement meeting room in Washington, was part of the agency's push to identify regulations that were excessive and burdensome to businesses.

 

Few businesspeople showed up. As public hearings on regulations have played out in recent weeks, many industry and corporate representatives have instead met with Trump administration officials behind closed doors.

 

Still, the EPA has asked for written comments and held about a dozen public meetings. The agency has received more than 467,000 comments, many of them critical of potential rollbacks, but also some from businesses large and small pleading for relief from regulatory costs or confusion.

 

After a quiet moment at the meeting to discuss lead regulations, the owner of a local painting company, Brian McCracken, moved to the microphone.

 

McCracken was frustrated by what he described as costly rules that forced him to test for lead-based paint in homes before he could begin painting. Each test kit costs about $2, and he may need six per room. If a family then declines to hire him, those costs come out of his pocket.

 

"I don't think anyone is sitting here saying that lead-based dust does not hurt children," he said. "That's not what we are talking about. What the contractor needs is a better way to test."

 

His voice quavered: "Why do I have to educate the general public about the hazards that generations before me created? It doesn't make sense at all."

 

Trump is not the first president to take on such frustrations.

 

President Bill Clinton declared the federal government was failing to regulate "without imposing unacceptable or unreasonable costs on society." He assigned Vice President Al Gore to collect agencies' suggestions for rules that should go. One rule dictated how to measure the consistency of grits.

 

President George W. Bush's regulatory overhaul focused more on how new regulations were created. The administration installed a political appointee inside each agency 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 industry-funded think tank.

 

President Barack Obama ordered regular updates from each agency about the effectiveness of rules already on the books.

 

"When you raise the profile, when it's clearly an executive priority, it gets attention," said Heather Krause, director of strategic issues at the Government Accountability Office, the main auditor of the federal government. According to the auditor's analysis, the effect under Obama was mostly to clarify and streamline rules, not eliminate them.

 

Like Bush, Trump has empowered political appointees. Though some agencies have included career staff members on their review teams, an executive order from Trump creating the teams does not require it — nonpolitical employees are generally believed to be more wedded to existing rules. And like Obama, Trump has imposed regular reporting requirements.

 

But Trump, who spent his business career on the other side of government regulations, has put an emphasis on cutting old rules.

 

The same day he signed the executive order initiating the review, he addressed a large crowd of conservative activists at a Maryland convention center.

 

"We have begun a historic program to reduce the regulations that are crushing our economy — crushing," Trump said. "We're going to put the regulations industry out of work and out of business."

 

Amit Narang, a regulatory expert at the liberal advocacy group Public Citizen, said Trump's decision to create teams of political appointees — formally known as regulatory reform task forces — should make it easier for the White House to overcome bureaucratic resistance to his rollback plans.

 

"To the extent there's a deep state effect in this administration," Narang said, "the task force will be more effective in trying to get the agenda in place."

 

The New York Times' Kitty Bennett contributed reporting to this story.

 

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Is This Slum Rehabilitation or Retired Officials’ Rehabilitation?
The Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) was created to rehabilitate slum-dwellers in Mumbai and make the city slum-free. However, almost 80% of the officers and staff at SRA are non-governmental and work on contract basis, reveals a reply received under the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
 
The reply received by RTI activist Anil Galgali shows that out of the 403 officers and staff at SRA, almost 80% are working on contract. This includes those re-appointed after retirement from government service. "These external staff do not have any responsibility affixed on them thereby turning the SRA into Developer's Rehabilitation Authority, the latest being role played by SRA's Chief Executive Officer, who cleared hundreds of files just before his retirement," Galgali said.
 
As per the roster approved for Mumbai SRA, there are 99 posts, of which 65 have been filled up and 34 are vacant. Of the 34 vacant posts, one post each is of legal advisor and under-secretary, five posts of nayab tahsildar, and 18 of sub-engineer. There are 73 officers working in SRA on deputation. Apart from these, SRA hired the services of 75 clerks and 38 peons through Eagle Security and Personal Services. The SRA has appointed 98 clerks and peons on contract as well. 
 
Fifty four retired officers have been reinstated in SRA. This includes three Chief Legal Advisors, one Chief Coordinator, one Deputy Collector, nine Nayab Tahsildars, one Public Relations Officer, one Complaints Redressal Officer, two Collector's Land officers, two Deputy Auditors, and 13 Surveyors, the RTI reply shows.
 
Galgali, in a letter to Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has demanded that the government give preference to staff and officers appointed through its own services, rather than appointing retired officers and staff on contract. Also the CEO and senior officials of the SRA should be made accountable for the slow progress of projects under SRA, the RTI activist demanded.

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COMMENTS

GLN Prasad

2 months ago

As a citizen I am only concerned with getting my job done, who does it, and how they does it not my issue. If only Govt. can deliver the services properly within time , I am happy and I do not have any grievance on the way they function.

Nifty, Sensex may move sideways – Tuesday closing report

The major indices of the Indian stock markets were range-bound on Tuesday and closed with minor gains over Monday’s close. The trends of the major indices in the course of Tuesday’s trading are given in the table below:

Positive global cues and buying in automobile, capital goods and IT (information technology) stocks pushed the Indian equity markets to fresh highs during the mid-afternoon trade session on Tuesday. Equity benchmarks extended Monday's gain and is trading positive due to global market. Sugar stocks made gains on the back of government's decision to increase import duty in sugar, pointed out market analysts. State Bank of India shares gained more than 1% intraday after the central board of directors approved dilution of bank's stake in its life insurance subsidiary.
 
Lending major IndusInd Bank on Tuesday reported a rise of 26% in its net profit for the first quarter (Q1) of 2017-18. According to the lending major, its net profit during the quarter under review rose to Rs836.55 crore from Rs661.38 crore reported for the corresponding period of last fiscal. "The quarter saw the momentum of the economy gradually picking up as the process of remonetisation moved towards completion," Romesh Sobti, MD and CEO, IndusInd Bank was quoted as saying in a statement. "With consumption activity slowly picking up, there is a sustained rise in credit uptake. Against the challenging environment, the bank has shown consistent performance, riding on the positive sentiment in the economy." Beside, IndusInd Bank reported that its net interest income (NII) for Q1 augmented by 31% to Rs1,774.06 crore from Rs1,356.42 crore in the corresponding quarter of the previous year. The bank’s shares closed at Rs1,559.25, down 0.04% on the BSE.
 
At a time when layoffs in the IT industry are dominating headlines, US-based IT solutions company Advanced Technology Consulting Service (ATCS) has announced it is expanding its operations in India by recruiting new staff and setting up its first Innovation Lab (I-Lab) in Jaipur. Apart from Jaipur, ATCS has also opened a new office in Bengaluru. "The I-Lab not only serves as a functional space for approaching ideas and concepts in an alternative setting but also embeds a spirit in our team that ATCS is expected to think differently, creating solutions beyond one's peripheral views," said Jason Castellani, partner at ATCS, in a statement on Tuesday. New Jersey-based ATCS also has offices in China, Germany and Canada. It provides strategic guidance to and implements software solutions for several Fortune 500 companies. "As an agile, innovative company, we give immense importance to solution creation for our customers. Now we have developed a space for our staff, which can stimulate creative thinking among them," said Manish Krishnan, Global CEO, ATCS. According to the company, the I-Lab would soon put Jaipur at par with IT hubs of the country and serve as a functional space for approaching ideas and concepts in an alternative setting. "For our customers, innovation is a big drive. Having such a lab in our India office helps us in delivering more inventive ideas to our clients," Krishnan added. S & P BSE Information Technology Index closed at 10,163.74, up 0.91% on the BSE.
 
Explaining the objective of the proposed merger between the financial services majors Shriram Group and IDFC Group, Shriram Group Chairman Ajay Piramal on Monday said both the organisations have lot of complementarities. Two groups had already announced that the boards of Shriram Group and IDFC entered into an exclusivity arrangement for 90 days to jointly explore the possibility of merger. "If you look at it, both the organisations have lot of complementarities in what they are doing. Shriram Group is strongly present in retail segment while IDFC is strong as far as the wholesale is concerned. Both the groups want to deliver to the customer something which was not done before," Piramal told BTVi in an interview. He said the Group is serving millions of customers who till now had not been any banking experience while the products and the services which IDFC brings in to that will be unique.  Asked on the rationale for keeping Shriram Transport out of the proposed merger, IDFC Bank's MD and CEO Rajiv Lall told BTVi: "The relative sizes of the Shriram Transport and the bank are such that combining the two at once would have created difficult challenges, both regulatory and financial point of view." According to Lall, Shriram Transport will operate as an independent NBFC. IDFC shares closed at Rs56.00, down 0.88% on the BSE and Shriram Transport Finance shares closed at Rs1,014.30, down 3.80% on the BSE.
 
US stocks closed mixed as investors got ready for the latest earning season. The Dow Jones Industrial Average on Monday lost 5.82 points, or 0.03%, to 21,408.52. The S&P 500 gained 2.25 points, or 0.09%, to 2,427.43. The Nasdaq Composite Index increased 23.31 points, or 0.38%, to 6,176.39. Performance of large banks will come into the spotlight later this week as JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Wells Fargo are set to report their earnings. Meanwhile, Wall Street is also waiting for earning reports from large-cap technology companies. There are no major economic data due Monday. Major inflationary and retail sales data will due out by the end of this week. In addition, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen will give her semi-annual monetary policy testimony before the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday and Thursday. Last Friday, US stocks rallied as Wall Street cheered over the country's much-better-than-expected jobs report for June.
 
The top gainers and top losers of the major indices are given in the table below:
 
 
The closing values of the major Asian indices are given in the table below:
 

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