Apr 23, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden gets mixed grades on revolving door

Illustration of a giant hand writing grades on a revolving door
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President Biden is getting mixed marks for his reliance on industry insiders to staff his administration during its first 100 days.

Why it matters: Progressives have leaned on the new president to limit the revolving door between industry and government. A new report from the Revolving Door Project praises him on that front but highlights key hires it deems ethically questionable.

What they're saying: "Biden has proven to be the least-captured and most public-oriented president of any of our lifetimes," says the group, a project of progressive think tank, the Center for Economic and Policy Research. That said, "the bar is low."

  • Its new report gives Biden an overall grade of B-, praising his hiring in areas including energy and environmental policy, financial regulation and tech policy.
  • “President Biden has instituted what one leading expert called the 'strongest, most ambitious' ethics plan in the history of the White House, and our administration has worked hard to put in place leaders across government who will put the American people first in any decision they make," White House spokesman Mike Gwin said in a statement on the report.

At the same time, the report knocks his administration for drawing talent from the "military-industrial complex."

  • "Biden’s pick of Lloyd Austin — a former Raytheon board member— has done little to challenge the military-industrial complex when it comes to staffing the administration," the Revolving Door Project says.
  • It also calls out hires from defense contractor-funded think tanks, such as the Center for a New American Security, where Biden intelligence director Avril Haines served as a board member, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, which employed top Pentagon official Kathleen Hicks.

The Revolving Door Project is particularly harsh on the Biden administration's self-imposed restrictions on registered lobbyists.

  • "They were exploiting a common misconception of how Washington’s influence industry works: Many of corporate America’s most powerful political hatchet-men never register as lobbyists," the report notes.
  • While former registered lobbyists in Biden's administration are rare, it has drawn talent at the highest levels from firms that monetize political connections, such as WestExec Advisors.
  • The consultancy was co-founded by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and also employed Haines.

Yes, but: While the Revolving Door Project is largely laudatory of administration hiring practices, it credits Biden for drawing from a different sort of revolving door.

  • Biden gets Bs for hiring talent from organizations more commonly favored by progressives, such as labor and public-interest nonprofits.
  • Anti-revolving door measures imposed by a Biden executive order in January make explicit allowances for conflicts with such organizations.
  • The administration also has waived ethics rules for a number of officials with those sorts of conflicts.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify Avril Haines' role at CNAS. She served on the organization's board, she was not "employed" by it.

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