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.
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.
(Excerpted from ProPublic 7/11/17)