The revolving door between government and industry

Photo of revolving door from cjelli's flickr collectionHere's something that might make you feel a bit less secure about the safety of your food: the director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) is becoming the senior vice president and chief science and regulatory affairs officer at the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA).

Robert E. Brackett, Ph.D. has extensive experience in the field of food safety: he has been a professor at the University of Georgia’s Center for Food Safety, an assistant professor at North Carolina State University’s Extension Foods and Nutrition division, and has years of experience at the FDA. His expertise will no doubt improve the quality of science at GMA. But the GMA's first priority is increasing the profits of its members, not protecting public health. So when his boss comes into his office and says, "Bob, we got a problem with some FDA rule making on ground beef. We need you to call your old buddies and straighten this out," will he act in the interest of the public, or in the interest of his employer (and the corporations who pay dues to GMA)? Even the most ethical and idealistic person can be convinced to bend the rules a little bit, especially when the boss is expecting "results."

From his years at the FDA, Brackett probably knows which levers to pull to best influence rule making (or rule non-making), which members of Congress have the most influence on the FDA's food safety programs (and therefore should receive legal bribes campaign contributions from the GMA or its member companies). I wonder if Brackett's FDA contract prevents him from lobbying or trying to influence the FDA for some period after he leaves the agency. Such clauses are often written into the contracts of regulatory agency employees. However, they are generally too short or too easy to get around.

In this example, the transfer is from government to the private sector. It often swings the other way. For example, Chuck Conner, the current acting secretary of agriculture, was president of the Corn Refiners Association from 1997 to 2001 before joining the USDA. Tom Philpott has an excellent story about Conner's days inside the Big Corn machine.

Photo of a revolving door from cjelli's flickr collection, subject to a Creative Commons License.


2 Responsesto “The revolving door between government and industry”

  1. Peter aka Nosher of the North says:

    Besides that fact that I would feel very uncomfortable with this guy doing two jobs that will most probably conflict with one another on a regular basis, and that the side that does not represent my interests has billions of dollars and many lawyers in its arsenal, I would also think that both jobs may require full-time commitments. On the slim chance that he can do both jobs effectively without compromising the desires of either side, how will he be able to actually do both jobs? Does each job only require a part-time schedule, or are they known as "no-shows" - like those construction jobs in the mafia? How much does each position pay?

  2. Peter -- you misunderstood something about my post. Brackett will be resigning from the FDA to join the GMA, so he will have just one job.

    I would guess that the pay at the GMA is much higher than at the FDA.