Deploying executive branch action can attract glowing coverage too
Biden hasn’t even reached the end of his first year in office and already eyes are turning to the likely contest between Vice President Kamala Harris and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg for the 2024 Democratic presidential nomination (provided, of course, that Biden steps aside). Prospective voters are being inundated with stories of palace intrigue, invaluable information about the would-be candidates’ preferences (Harris doesn’t like to use Bluetooth, Buttigieg loves electric bikes), and speeches and media appearances in which the Vice President and Secretary boost Build Back Better (despite neither having a substantive role in its passage). Notably missing from this deluge, however, is much discussion of how well either one is performing the job they currently hold. That seems to us among the most relevant considerations as prospective voters mull giving either a promotion.
My colleagues Daniel Boguslaw and Dylan Gyauch-Lewis took to The American Prospect to begin to fill that gap with a close look at Secretary Buttigieg’s performance at the Transportation Department. Their verdict? Buttigieg has been much more focused on securing media spots to sing Build Back Better’s praises than on the actual job of being Transportation Secretary.
That is no small oversight amid a politically and economically-damaging shipping crisis that the Transportation Department is uniquely well-positioned to address. For example, as Dan and Dylan explain, rather than swallowing trucking industry talking points about the driver shortage, Buttigieg’s DOT could be addressing the actual problem — drivers’ working conditions — by going after predatory vehicle loans. An engaged Transportation Secretary would work with the Labor Department to combat drivers’ misclassification as independent contractors. Outside of trucking, DOT could also “enforce serious civil penalties on consolidated freight shippers,” target price gouging in the airline industry, and “mobilize the National Guard’s manpower and logistics capabilities” to clear bottlenecks at ports. Buttigieg’s time would be much better spent focusing on implementing these and other policies than being one in a chorus of voices pushing Build Back Better or pretending the bipartisan Infrastructure bill is politically salient.
And if, having delivered tangible wins for working people, Buttigieg wants to go on TV to brag about them, we frankly won’t complain. In fact, it’s good when political leaders energetically and creatively promote what they’re doing for the public. That promotion just can’t come at the expense of actual effective governance or be used as a shield to mask its absence–and it especially should not happen when a senior member of the executive branch does little except talk about… legislation.
So, here’s hoping that the next time Buttigieg sits down with a TikTok influencer or goes on MSNBC, he’ll have something to report about the steps he’s finally taking using the tools he actually controls.
The crypto industry is continuing to build its arsenal to fend off new regulation–or the implementation of existing laws and regulations. Its weapon of choice? Former regulators. My colleagues Dylan Gyauch-Lewis and Timi Iwayemi have set about tracking this revolving door and have so far identified 43 former government officials who now hold senior positions in crypto companies, a list of whom can be viewed here. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission, in particular, stands out for its contributions to the ranks of the crypto lobby; five of its former commissioners and one former staffer have all departed to work in crypto. Still, as Dylan and Timi note, the industry has a wide reach. The SEC, IRS, CIA, and DOJ all had more than one crypto revolver.
We will be updating this blog as we learn of additional revolvers so keep an eye out and send any tips our way!
It’s official; the federal government will be operating under Trump-era funding levels for at least another two months. Last week, Congress passed a continuing resolution to keep the government funded through February 18, narrowly averting a government shutdown. That’s better than the April or May end date that Senate Republicans were threatening to push for. Still, it’s discouraging to see work on a more robust spending plan deferred yet again. As we head into the second year of Biden’s presidency, the limits of agencies’ capacity under current funding levels will only become more evident and the consequences more severe. Without additional resources to support an expanded agenda and reverse years of underinvestment, agency action is unlikely to be as aggressive or numerous as necessary.
In our new Climate Finance Capacity series, we are digging into the extent of the capacity gap and its effects on climate-focused financial regulation at each of the Financial Stability Oversight Council’s member agencies. Our first installment, published last week, focuses on the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, where under-resourcing and understaffing have been chronic problems for decades. Watch out for future installments very soon!
Even as we advocate for new spending for beleaguered agencies, it’s important not to forget that fixing the federal government’s long-running capacity shortfalls will require more than just appropriating larger budgets. It also matters how resources are being spent. We’ve highlighted this extensively when it comes to how effectively (or, in most cases, ineffectively) agencies hire the talent they need. In a new blog, my colleague Toni Aguilar Rosenthal explores another angle on this: federal contract spending. As she explains, there’s a lot more that the Biden administration can be doing to ensure that the federal contracting system works for workers, consumers, and the public at-large. But there exists a formidable obstacle to those changes: the revolving door between the government’s contract administrators and the contracting industry. “Out of an analysis of 30 top appointed acquisitions positions within the Trump Administration, 15 officials (50%) had a history of traveling through the revolving door, meaning that they had entered the position from the private sector, returned to the private sector following public service, or both. Of these, 11 people came from industry to the public sector, 12 went into the private sector following their public positions, and 8 did both.” We don’t have as comprehensive a picture of the data for the Obama administration, but it’s clear that this revolving door was spinning then too. Troublingly, with his appointments thus far, President Biden has yet to go against this mold.
Want more? Check out some of the pieces that we have published or contributed research or thoughts to in the last week: