The flow of employees from the private sector into government and back out is well-established and, often, hardly worth mentioning. Graphic designers from most media outlets with a location in the nation's capital have probably at some point been asked to Photoshop a revolving door onto the Capitol building.
But this is the Obama administration, which trumpeted its anti-lobbyist position in an ethics statement on its transition Web site. "Free the Executive Branch from Special Interest Influence," one header reads, right above "Close the Revolving Door on Former and Future Employers." It's an administration that quickly announced no lobbyists would be allowed to serve on advisory panels -- a policy that survived until this week, after a legal challenge.
In an organization the size of the administration, 65 people isn't a terribly large number. And the lofty rhetoric of the titles on the new administration's ethics page lie above more subtle proposed reforms. Regardless, it's worth taking candidate Barack Obama at his word when he said, in a February 2008 speech, that lobbyists "won't drown out your voices anymore when I am President of the United States of America." Or in June 2007, when he said that Americans "want real reform, and they're tired of the lobbyists standing in the way." Precisely how many lobbyists you can have in place without such obstruction wasn't made clear.
Most of the people with lobbying experience who are currently serving with the administration have been there from the beginning. Thirty-six of the 65 joined the administration in 2009; only 6 of those currently with the administration joined in Obama's second term.
They're widely distributed throughout the administration, as well. Seven are assigned to diplomatic missions overseas. Four work directly for the White House. Most work in senior positions at government departments, including Agriculture, Energy, Justice, and State. Six work for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
The data provided by the Center for Responsive Politics didn't include the years of service at firms lobbying the government, but it did provide background information on each of the employees. Take Diane Cornell, special counsel at the FCC since 2013. Immediately before that position, she was vice president of governmental affairs at Inmarsat, a British communications company. Before that, she was a VP at a communications association -- and before that, she was at the FCC. The data doesn't say how long she was with the firm Squire, Sanders & Dempsey, which eventually folded into lobbying giant Patton Boggs. But between Inmarsat and the communications association, Cornell spent more than a dozen years lobbying the government where she once and again works.
On average, according to our analysis, the lobbyists who now work for Obama spent at least 8.4 years working for firms that lobby the government, and have worked for the administration a little less than five. And that includes people who were registered as lobbyists but for whom we couldn't determine how long they'd held those positions. So that's 1.7 years of lobbying experience for every year spent in the administration, on average.
The value of former administration and congressional officials to lobbying firms is two-fold. First, they have connections, which is why federal revolving door rules set windows during which ex-officials can't lobby their peers. The second is that these people know the subject matter very well, whether it's the intricacy of policy or the machinations of legislating. And it works the other way. The 65 people hired by Obama certainly gained knowledge while lobbying that aids them now; Cornell is a more informed FCC attorney than she would have been had she never worked for Inmarsat.
It's just that this is not quite the picture that Obama offered voters in 2008.