Government’s Influential
Corporate Advisers
When George Washington’s administration Food and Drug Administration often have current or past ties to the pharmaceutical companies that in 1791, government assembled a group of private manufacture those drugs. In December 2011, a citizens to report on the situation. According to an joint FDA advisory committee met to consider the account from the time, one of the group’s first benefits and risks of Yaz and Yasmin, popular oral decisions was to keep its meetings private, so there contraceptives. A majority of committee members could be “more frank and full communication” of voted “yes” that the benefits outweigh the risks, “sentiments and intentions.” Thus began the gov- even though recent studies had shown that Yaz and ernment’s long-standing, and at times controver- Yasmin were likely to cause blood clots. What the sial, reliance on outside advisers to discuss the government did not reveal was that four committee most pressing issues of the day in private.
members who voted “yes” had past financial Fast forward to 2012, when 70,000 individu- arrangements with Bayer—the manufacturer of Yaz als served on advisory panels throughout the fed- and Yasmin—or with other pharmaceutical com- eral government, and total government spending panies that had a stake in the committee’s decision.
Many advisory
on advisory committees exceeded $350 million. Committees that advise the Secretary of Energy board members
These advisory committees—which have been are often filled with energy industry representatives. support policies that
called the “fifth arm of government” — are now These advisory committees, known as The National required by law to operate with a basic degree of Coal Council and National Petroleum Council, are can benefit their
transparency. What’s more, President Obama—in dominated by representatives from the coal, oil, and private-sector
an effort to reduce the “undue influence of special natural gas industries, including executives from the employers or
interests” — has directed federal agencies to American Coal Council, BP, Exxon Mobil, and industries.
remove lobbyists from their advisory committees.
Shell. Not surprisingly, these committees have advo- But these rules have hardly ended the govern- cated for the increased use of coal, oil, and natural ment’s sometimes-less-than-transparent relation- ship with advisers representing corporate interests. To make matters worse, agency regulations Many advisory board members support policies and court decisions have allowed some advisory that can benefit their private-sector employers or committees and subcommittees to operate in industries. They also get an inside look at the gov- secret. In addition, some committee members who ernment’s needs and advise their employers about are supposed to be providing their unbiased exper- tise to the government have been excused from The Defense Policy Board and Defense Science complying with federal conflict-of-interest rules.
Board—powerful committees that advise senior Pentagon officials on a wide range of policy remove or modify conflict of interest and issues—have been occupied over the years by mem- Freedom of Information Act exemption and waiv- bers who also served as executives and board mem- er provisions for advisory board members and bers for top defense contractors. Recent members ensure that unclassified portions of board meeting include Pentagon officials who went through the minutes are publicly available. They should also “revolving door” to the defense industry, such as enact an Executive Branch-wide law requiring Edward A. Adler, a former official at the Defense federal advisory committee members to recuse or Advanced Research Projects Agency and director at disqualify themselves from any discussion on mat- Boeing; Judith A. Miller, a former Department of ters where they or their private employer or client Defense general counsel and director at Bechtel; have a significant financial interest. This disclo- and John M. Keane, a former Army vice chief of sure or recusal statement, including name, title staff and director at General Dynamics.
and employer, should be filed with the Office of Outside researchers who evaluate drugs for the Government Ethics and made publicly available.
Michael Smallberg is an investigator at the Project for Government Oversight. Money in Democracy Part 3, Policy Makers: Committed to Public Values or Corporate Agendas? A Publication of the
Justice Rising • 781-894-1179 •
Alliance for Democracy


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