To Restore Trust in Government, Slow Wall Street's Revolving Door

August 31, 2015
One of our nation's greatest strengths is that we are governed by each other -- what President Lincoln celebrated as "a government of the people, by the people, and for the people."

But increasingly, Americans' trust in government is eroding. And a big reason for that is the so-called revolving door between government and the private sector.

Inviting outside voices into government is often a good thing. When public servants have experience beyond Washington, they bring new ideas, new perspectives, and new knowledge to the work of governing this huge, complicated country of ours. Some of America's most dedicated public servants got their start in technology, business, academia, or other fields. Most of the time, that private-sector experience is an asset, not a liability.

But in some cases, it can affect the public trust -- for example, if a public servant's past and future are tied to the financial industry. That's when people start worrying that the foxes are guarding the hen house.

The American people need to be able to trust that every single person in Washington -- from the President of the United States all the way down to agency employees -- is putting the interests of the people first.

We want to do more to make sure that happens.

Both of us have a track record of supporting stronger ethics rules. One of us -- Tammy -- has introduced legislation in the Senate to help close that revolving door. The other of us -- Hillary -- strongly supports this bill, and as president would crack down on conflicts of interest in government.

Here's what this bill would do.

Right now, some private sector employers offer bonuses to employees when they leave to join the government. This bill would prohibit that. The private sector shouldn't be allowed to "pay to play" with their former employees. If you're working for the government, you're working for the people -- not for an oil company, drug company, or Wall Street bank or money manager.

Right now, government employees entrusted with oversight are required by law to recuse themselves from any cases involving their former employers for one year. That's not long enough. This bill would bump it up to two years. And for people leaving government service, this bill would prevent them from taking a job at a company they oversaw until at least two years have passed.

Right now, loopholes allow former government officials to lobby in practice, even if they aren't officially called lobbyists. They offer regulatory access to private interests as "outside advisors" or "strategic counselors." That means they can avoid legal requirements that lobbyists have to meet. This bill would clamp down on that.

This bill is full of sensible ideas like these. It should become law. Congressman Elijah Cummings is co-sponsoring it in the House, and we hope more Members of Congress join us in supporting it.

We are committed to making sure reforms like these are implemented and enforced, and that they apply to all federal workers -- whether they're elected or appointed.

And we can and should do more -- in particular, to restore people's confidence that the government is holding powerful companies accountable when they commit acts of wrongdoing, whether on Wall Street or anywhere else.

That means ensuring that when corporations pay fines for breaking the law, those fines cut into the bonuses of the highest-paid executives. It means increasing rewards to whistleblowers, so employees of private companies have greater incentive to come forward and report illegal activity. And it means prosecuting individuals, as well as firms, when they commit fraud or other crimes. Right now, in many cases where companies are punished for wrongdoing, no one at the top is prosecuted. We need to do a better job of holding the decision-makers accountable.

At the end of the day, a lot of this is about leadership. There's an old saying in government: "Personnel is policy." Who we hire goes a long way toward determining what we do and how well we do it. We need to make sure those who do the people's work in Washington are actually doing it -- not worrying about former or future bosses at the public's expense.

That's how we'll begin to restore Americans' trust -- and make sure that our government truly is "for the people."

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