The policy change, described by the White House as the next step in President Barack Obamas drive to limit influence-peddling in Washington,
could affect hundreds of lobbyists who serve on the panels, which were created by Congress in the 1970s to provide private-sector advice to the government.
By removing a key point of access to the administration, many lobbyists will be less useful to their clients, who will be forced to appoint others to take up the slack. And the information about federal government intentions gleaned from committee meetings will now be unavailable to many lobbyists as they strategize on how to work various issues.
There is fury, said a lobbyist who sits on one of the committees. Absolute fury. K Street veterans say they sit at the intersection of policy wonk-dom, Washington savvy, and the needs of business, and are therefore best suited to populate the panels.
But the White House views the move as a key step in rolling back what officials see as the open-door policy for K Street created in previous years. According to a senior White House official, the panels have been excessively dominated by lobbyists. It is one of the ways special interests have historically shaped policy to the detriment of the public interest, he said.
The policy was announced quietly Sept. 23 in a blog post on the White House Web site by the White House special counsel for ethics and government reform also known as the ethics czar Norm Eisen. The White House has informed executive agencies and departments that it is our aspiration that federally-registered lobbyists not be appointed to agency advisory boards and commissions, Eisen states. He goes on to say that it is our hope that lobbyists already on the panels not be reappointed.
The Commerce Department and Office of the U.S. Trade Representative took the White House aspiration to heart almost immediately, telling members of the panels in a letter last week that lobbyists will no longer be appointed to panels and that those on them will be out as the committees are rechartered in 2010 and 2011.
The letter, obtained by Roll Call, was signed by Commerce Department Industry Trade Advisory Center Director Ingrid Mitchem. It states: If you are requesting consideration for reappointment, you will need to send to me a supplemental statement in writing, by letter or via e-mail, affirming both that: 1) you are not a federally-registered lobbyist, and 2) that you understand that if reappointed, you will not be allowed to continue to serve as an ITAC member if you become a federally-registered lobbyist at any time during your appointed tenure to the committee.
The instructions will decimate the ranks of lobbyists on the trade committees, which help guide U.S. negotiators objectives as they pursue trade deals with other countries. One source estimated that about 130 of 330 people on the trade committees are lobbyists. Other federal agencies affected by the new policy continue to consider how they will implement it.