By William Fisher
The nomination of a long-time manufacturers’ lobbyist to head the nation’s consumer safety watchdog agency is not only igniting fierce opposition from public interest groups, but is sparking a reexamination of the Bush Administration’s five-year history of appointing senior officials many regard as “cronies” who were inefficient, inexperienced and, in some cases, forced to resign under pressure or convicted of crimes.
According to a report released by Public Citizen, Michael Baroody, President Bush’s nominee to chair the Consumer Products Safety Commission, was the top lobbyist for the country’s most powerful industry trade association when the group supported weakening guidelines for reporting information about dangerous products.
The report charged that the “requirements that the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and its allies sought to weaken had been responsible for more than 80 percent of the fines issued by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) over the past decade. NAM’s members and its coalition partners were responsible for paying more than half of those fines.”
The CPSC is tasked with protecting the public – and especially children – from serious injury or death and monitors more than 15,000 types of consumer products. Reports about product hazards are mandated by the Consumer Product Safety Act, one of the key laws governing the CPSC’s role in protecting consumer safety.
Public Citizen says that with Baroody serving as its executive director for lobbying efforts, NAM supported a move to weaken agency protocols that dictate when companies – including NAM members – must immediately report information about potentially hazardous product defects. The changes NAM successfully pressed for could affect the agency’s ability to issue timely decisions to recall dangerous products.
“As head of the CPSC, Baroody would be in charge of administering the weakened disclosure guidance his industry association sought, presenting a serious and unavoidable conflict of interest,” said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. “Under his authority, consumer and public safety would be at risk, while the companies he represented for years would save millions in future fines.”
Public Citizen’s analysis shows that weakening the rules had enormous financial benefits for NAM and its manufacturer members at the expense of consumer safety. Alleged violations of reporting guidelines were responsible for about $32.9 million of $39.6 million in civil fines collected by the CPSC since 1997. NAM members and affiliates accounted for more than half of those payments, totaling $18 million. Five of those companies alone paid a combined $10 million for allegedly violating reporting guidelines.
“While Baroody was at its helm, NAM had a record of unrelenting hostility to the safety of consumers, including small children,” said Laura MacCleery, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “Baroody should not be confirmed to lead a safety agency that has such a vital role in protecting American families.”
The Baroody nomination has rekindled charges of serious ethics breaches, conflicts of interest, inefficiency, cronyism, and a number of criminal convictions among Bush political appointees since the election of 2000.
The public is by now familiar with the more high profile cases. The departure of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The conviction of Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, Scooter Libby, for lying to a federal grand jury in connection with the leaking of a CIA operative's identity. The conviction of David Safavian, head of all government procurement at the Office of Management and Budget, for lying to ethics officials and Senate investigators about his ties to lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The resignation of neoconservative leader Richard Perle, one of the architects of the Iraq invasion, who stepped down as Chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board amid conflict-of-interest charges. The firing of Michael Brown, the FEMA director whose performance before, during and after Hurricane Katrina became a national scandal. And, most recently, the resignation of Monica Goodling, the Bush administration official believed to have played a pivotal role in the current contretemps over sacked prosecutors, after she invoked her Fifth Amendment right not to testify to Congress.
Less well-known to the public is the catalog of indictments or guilty pleas by lower-level Executive Branch political appointees. Here are some of them, originally compiled by Nick Turse of TPM Muckraker (www.tpmmuckraker.com), and added to by readers.
Steven Griles, Deputy Secretary at the Interior Department, who resigned and subsequently pled guilty to lying about his ties to convicted super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Dusty Foggo, CIA Executive Director, who was indicted following accusations of corruption in connection to the Duke Cunningham scandal.
Claude Allen, Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy, who pled guilty to shoplifting from Target stores.
Larry Franklin, a DOD intelligence officer, who pled guilty to passing secrets to Israel.
Roger Stillwell, a desk officer at the Interior Department, who pled guilty to failing to report Redskins tickets and free dinners from Jack Abramoff.
Frank Figueroa, a senior official in the Department of Homeland Security, and former head of anti-sex-crime Operation Predator, who pled no contest to exposing himself to 16-year-old girl in Florida mall.
Darleen Druyun, a senior contracting official for the Air Force, who pled guilty and was sentenced to nine months in prison for her role in the Boeing tanker lease scandal.
John Korsmo, chairman of the Federal Housing Finance Board, who pled guilty to lying to the Senate and an inspector general about his role in a fundraiser for a friend's congressional campaign.
P. Trey Sunderland III, Chief of Geriatric Psychiatry at the National Institute of Mental Health, who admitted to a criminal conflict of interest charge for failing to report $300,000 received from Pfizer, Inc., a pharmaceutical company.
Still others have resigned in the face of pending charges or after investigations had been completed. These include:
Carl Truscott, Director of the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Bureau, who resigned after a report by the Justice Department's Inspector General found he wasted tens of thousands of dollars on luxuries, wasted millions on whimsical management decisions and violated ethics rules by ordering employees to help his nephew with a high school video project.
Joseph Schmitz, the Defense Department’s Inspector General, who resigned amid charges he personally intervened to protect top political appointees.
Susan Ralston, a White House assistant, who resigned amidst revelations she had accepted thousands of dollars in gifts from lobbyist Abramoff without compensating him, counter to White House ethics rules.
Kenneth Tomlinson, Chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, who resigned after the release of an inspector general’s report concluding he had broken laws in spending CPB money to hire politically connected consultants to search for "bias" without consulting the board. At BBG, a separate investigation found he was running a "horse racing operation" out of his office, and continuing to hire politically-wired individuals to do "consulting" work for him.
George Deutsch, a NASA press aide, who resigned amid allegations he prevented the agency's top climate scientist from speaking publicly about global warming.
James Roche, Secretary of the Air Force, who resigned in the wake of the Boeing tanker lease scandal, after it was revealed he had pushed for Boeing to win a $23 billion contract.
Marvin Sambur, the top contracting executive at the Air Force – Darleen Druyun's boss -- who resigned in the wake of the Boeing scandal, though further investigations cleared him of wrongdoing.
Philip Cooney, Chief of Staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and a former oil industry lawyer with no scientific expertise, who resigned after it was revealed he had watered down reports on global warming.
Thomas Scully, Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, who resigned following an investigation by the HHS Inspector General found he had pressured the agency's actuary to underestimate the full cost of the Medicare reform bill by approximately $100 billion until after Congress passed the bill into law.
Michelle Larson Korsmo, Deputy Chief of Staff at the Department of Labor, who resigned about two weeks before news broke that she and her husband were the targets of a criminal probe.
David Smith, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks at the Interior Department, who resigned after shooting a buffalo and accepting its remains as an illegal gratuity.
Sean Tunis, Chief Medical Officer at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, who left after the State of Maryland suspended his medical license because he faked documentation relating to his medical education.
Julie MacDonald, the Interior Department’s Assistant Secretary of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, who resigned after an Inspector General investigation concluded that she used her position to squelch protection of endangered species.
Janet Rehnquist, the daughter of the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who resigned as Inspector General of the Health and Human Services Department after Congress began investigating her decision to delay an audit of Florida's pension fund at the request of Gov. Jeb Bush's office.
Robert E. Coughlin II, Deputy Chief of Staff for the DOJ’s criminal division, who resigned after coming under scrutiny in the Department’s expanding investigation of convicted super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Lester Crawford, who resigned as a commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration and pleaded guilty to charges of "conflict of interest and false reporting of information about stocks he owned in food, beverage and medical device companies he was in charge of regulating.”
Army Secretary Francis Harvey, the Army's top civilian official, who resigned in the wake of the ongoing controversy about poor outpatient care of injured soldiers at Walter Reid Army Medical Center.
The nominations of a number of other Bush loyalists were withdrawn because of scandal or political opposition. For example:
Harriet Myers, a longtime Bush friend, who the president nominated to be an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court, but later was forced to withdraw because of opposition from the religious right.
Bernard Kerik, nominated on the recommendation of former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to head the Department of Homeland Security, who withdrew his nomination amidst a host of corruption allegations.
Timothy Flanigan, nominated to be Deputy Attorney General, who withdrew his nomination after revelations that he had worked closely with lobbyist Jack Abramoff when he was General Counsel for Corporate and International Law at Tyco, an Abramoff client.
Linda Chavez, nominated to become Secretary of Labor, who withdrew her nomination because of revelations that an illegal immigrant lived in her home and worked for her.
A number of other Bush nominees made it through the Senate confirmation process but remain under scrutiny by Congress because of lack of experience or ideologically-driven views.
One such is Ellen Sauerbrey, now head of the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, the office that coordinates the American response to migration problems caused by war and natural disasters and works with international groups on population and reproductive-health issues.
Sauerbrey’s resume includes no experience in any of these areas. She ran Bush's 2000 presidential campaign in Maryland, and twice ran for governor of that state.
Another is Julie Myers, head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), whose nomination was criticized by several ICE supervisors and agents who said she was "unqualified" because she never held a law-enforcement management position. Myers leads the largest investigative component of the Department of Homeland Security and the second largest investigative agency in the federal government, with more than 15,000 employees and an annual budget of nearly $5 billion. Her uncle is retired Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, formerly chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
A third is J. Dorrance Smith, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs. Smith, a former ABC News producer and the former media adviser to Coalition Provisional Authority Ambassador L. Paul Bremer, was confirmed by the Senate months after President Bush used a recess appointment to install him in the job. Objections were raised about a column he wrote for the Wall Street Journal in which he suggested that US television networks engaged in “collaboration” with terrorists by airing Arab news reports on al Qaeda.
Many of the Bush Administration’s younger appointees were recruited from right-wing Christian universities, such as Patrick Henry College, whose mission is “to prepare Christian men and women who will lead our nation and shape our culture with timeless biblical values and fidelity to the spirit of the American founding.” Others have come from Liberty University, the Christian liberal arts university founded as Lynchburg Baptist College in 1971 by televangelist Jerry Falwell.
Liberty’s law school is the alma mater of Monica Goodling, the DOJ’s White House liaison officer, who recently resigned rather than testify to Congress about her role in the firing of US attorneys. A long line of Patrick Henry graduates have found their way to internships and permanent positions in the Bush Administration, including some in the office of Karl Rove, the president’s chief political advisor.
Paul Bonicelli, a former Patrick Henry dean, is now the number two official supervising democracy-promotion programs at the US Agency for International Development.
But not all Bush appointees have been happy campers. A number have resigned. For example, John J. DiIulio Jr., the first director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, who quit his post after only seven months on the job, and David Kuo, his deputy, who left saying that “there was minimal senior White House commitment to the faith-based agenda" and that there never really was great concern over what he called "the ‘poor people stuff’."
DiIulio told Esquire Magazine, "There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus. What you've got is everything -- and I mean everything -- being run by the political arm. It's the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis." He also decried "a virtual absence as yet of any policy accomplishments that might, to a fair-minded nonpartisan, count as the flesh on the bones of so-called compassionate conservatism."
The invasion of Iraq also triggered the resignations of a number of officials who disagreed with the Bush Administration’s war policies. Among them were career Foreign Service Officers like John Brown, now a Senior Fellow at the University of Southern California Center on Public Diplomacy, and Mary A. (Ann) Wright, who now writes about US foreign policy and lectures at universities.
But the current controversy related to the forced resignations of nine US attorneys promises to add fuel to the fire caused by what many Administration-watchers describe as the most inept, ideological and politically-driven presidencies in recent US history.
Virtually every American administration has had its share of scandal. The presidencies of Warren G. Harding and Ulysses S. Grant were destroyed by the appointment of corrupt or unqualified officials.
Woodrow Wilson got rid of his attorney general, James McReynolds, by appointing him to the Supreme Court; McReynolds was a reactionary who hated his fellow Justices, Louis Brandeis and Benjamin Cardozo, for being Jewish, and is remembered as one of the worst Justices in it's history.
Dwight D. Eisenhower had to fire his top aide, Sherman Adams, for accepting a Vicuna coat from a government contractor.
One of John F. Kennedy’s assistant secretaries in the commerce Department was fired for violating the Hatch Act by soliciting campaign contributions from government employees.
Jimmy Carter appointed Bert Lance as head of his Office of Management and Budget, but Lance was forced to resign six months later amid allegations of mismanagement and corruption when Lance was Chairman of the Board of Calhoun National Bank of Calhoun, Georgia.
Lyndon B. Johnson appointed a Defense Secretary, Robert McNamara, who was a serial liar on conditions in Vietnam.
Ronald Reagan had Col. Oliver North, Adm. John Pointdexter and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger in the lead roles of Iran-Contra.
Richard Nixon appointed the arrogant sycophants whose amoral hubris resulted in Watergate.
And Bill Clinton appointed many Arkansas cronies, including Webster Hubbell as his Deputy Attorney General, only to have him assert his Fifth Amendment right not to testify before Congress, but later plead guilty to several felony charges relating to illegal billing in the Whitewater affair.
But critics of the Bush Administration assert that its “appointments deficit” extends wider and deeper than that of any other modern presidency. They contend that, of the 3,000-plus political jobs a president can offer, an exponentially larger proportion of Bush appointees lack the specialized experience they require, are managerially inept and ideologically-driven, have contempt for career civil servants, and regularly sacrifice good governance ethics for personal gain or to curry favor among Bush supporters, especially the Religious Right.