A reaction to Orszag’s Citigroup move

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I think that Harold Pollack, professor at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago, sums up a lot of feelings people are having about former Office of Management and Budget director Peter Orszag’s move from government to the offices of Citigroup:

With the exception of the president himself, Orszag was arguably the most important economic policymaker in the entire Obama administration. Orszag’s OMB role, his fingertip familiarity with policy, the budget process, and congressional policymakers made him central to the stimulus and health reform efforts. He was President Obama’s right hand man for much of that work, and more besides. He accumulated the ultimate rolodex of people inside and outside government, within the United States, and perhaps globally, too.

Now he is selling those contacts, skills, and experiences to Citigroup. His annual compensation is expected to be “at least” $2 to $3 million. I’m sure he will comply with applicable federal lobbying laws, and beyond that, with the various norms of decorum that seem to govern such things. This still stinks. A huge bank’s strategic interactions with government hardly begin or end with the legal or even the commonsense definition of lobbying. His inside knowledge of presidential policymaking, regulatory processes, and congressional politics will be valuable–sometimes for good ends, sometimes not—whether or not he ever does actual lobbying.

Was there a more politically toxic destination to sell these wares than Citigroup? The firm may or may not win the prize as the most galling corporate recipient of federal bailout funds. It is certainly on the medal stand. It perfectly symbolizes both the “too-big-to-fail” problem and the overly-cozy relationship between investment banking and Washington. This move undercuts efforts to curb the revolving-door culture between the government and the industries it regulates and affects.

The key takeaway is this passage, “A huge bank’s strategic interactions with government hardly begin or end with the legal or even the commonsense definition of lobbying. His inside knowledge of presidential policymaking, regulatory processes, and congressional politics will be valuable–sometimes for good ends, sometimes not—whether or not he ever does actual lobbying.”

This is exactly why the revolving door is so pernicious.

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