One has to scratch one's head at how Washington really works.
Every cycle a new politician comes to town promising reforms and better government, with more checks on the comings and goings of it's personnel.
The current Obama transition team is no different, with a sharper vetting process promised for new staffers than before. The New York Times has a piece on this, noting*:
"Want a top job in the Obama administration? Only pack rats need apply, preferably those not packing controversy.
A seven-page questionnaire being sent by the office of President-elect Barack Obama to those seeking cabinet and other high-ranking posts may be the most extensive — some say invasive — application ever.
The questionnaire includes 63 requests for personal and professional records, some covering applicants’ spouses and grown children as well, that are forcing job-seekers to rummage from basements to attics, in shoe boxes, diaries and computer archives to document both their achievements and missteps.
Only the smallest details are excluded; traffic tickets carrying fines of less than $50 need not be reported, the application says. Applicants are asked whether they or anyone in their family owns a gun. They must include any e-mail that might embarrass the president-elect, along with any blog posts and links to their Facebook pages.
The application also asks applicants to “please list all aliases or ‘handles’ you have used to communicate on the Internet.”
The vetting process for executive branch jobs has been onerous for decades, with each incoming administration erecting new barriers in an effort to avoid the mistakes of the past, or the controversies of the present. It is typically updated to reflect technological change (there was no Facebook the last time a new president came to town).
But Mr. Obama has elevated the vetting even beyond what might have been expected, especially when it comes to applicants’ family members, in a reflection of his campaign rhetoric against lobbying and the back-scratching, self-serving ways of Washington.
Here's a link to the questionnaire if you want to take a peek.
It's all very well and good, until you look at the background of folks already deeply ensconced within the new Obama administration. What would one of these questionnaires look filled out from those already part of the new administration?
This piece from the DC Examiner on Rahm Emanuel, the new Chief of Staff to the President-Elect, is a case in point:
Barack Obama, in the name of ethics, has promised to “close the revolving door between K-Street lobbying shops and the White House.”
He very well might do that, but the man running the show in his White House, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, is among the all-time champions in parlaying work in government into business connections and personal wealth—$16.2 million in two-and-a-half years—and then leveraging those business connections back into political success.
Emanuel, Obama’s pick as White House chief of staff, was never a K Street lobbyist, but in between his stints in government he was a highly-paid deal-maker who enriched himself by using his government connections to enrich big business...
One of Emanuel’s two biggest deals never would have happened without government pressure. When telecom giant SBC bought fellow telecom company Ameritech, SBC executives intended to hold onto Ameritech’s home-security company SecurityLink.
But Bill Clinton’s Federal Communications Commission insisted that federal law required SBC to sell the security company. Clinton’s old right-hand man, Emanuel, happened to be working on behalf of a venture capital firm called GTCR Golder Rauner that wanted to buy SecurityLink from SBC. The government pressure helped Emanuel get his clients a good deal, as the Tribune tells the story:
“Under a regulatory deadline to divest itself of SecurityLink, SBC financed all but $100 million of GTCR’s $479 million purchase of the firm. Less than six months later, GTCR resold the company for $1 billion, earning a quick $500 million on its investment.”
The story is reminiscent of how our current outgoing President made his $15 million from his first major foray into the business world.
There's nothing necessarily wrong in any of this, other than it's just business and politics as usual, for every administration regardless of which Party one's talking about. Just the faces change.
It's a complicated but similar thicket of relationships being vetted every time regardless of level, as this other New York Times piece explains.
No one is ever clean. There are always gray areas for everyone. Despite all efforts to scrub every new administration. Especially if one hopes to hire anyone good for every cycle of change.
We citizens just all need to be realistic in how we set our aspirations in the honeymoon phase of every administration, either Red or Blue. And keep hoping for change despite the same old same old.