The revolving door between Google and government

The notion of the ‘revolving door’ is something I’ve spent much time pondering when campaigning against the arms trade. I’ve talked to Andrew Feinstein, former South African MP and long-standing critic of the arms trade, for two podcasts which explored this issue. Here’s the most recent one I recorded. This is how Campaign Against the Arms Trade introduce the ‘revolving door’:

A disturbing number of senior officials, military staff and ministers have passed through the revolving door to join arms companies and the security industry.

They take with them contacts and privileged access – vital currency in delivering lucrative contracts.

The realistic prospect of future employment also runs the risk of public servants acting in the interests of companies whilst still in office. And beyond individual decisions, the traffic to the private sector is part of the process of the public interest becoming conflated with corporate interest: It becomes normal to unquestioningly meet, collaborate and decide policy with the arms industry, then take work with it.

There’s an important body of work, both analysis and activism, addressing this issue in relation to the defence sector. I’ve been thinking back to it recently after Move Fast and Break Things, by Jonathan Taplin, took aim at the emerging revolving door between Google and government. From pg 128-130:

Putting aside the fact that Google chairman Eric Schmidt has visited the Obama White House more than any other corporate executive in America and that Google chief lobbyist Katherine Oyama was associate counsel to Vice President Joe Biden, the list of highly placed Googlers in the federal government is truly mind-boggling.

• The US chief technology officer and one of her deputies are former Google employees.

• The acting assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s antitrust division is a former antitrust attorney at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, the Silicon Valley firm that represented Google.

• The White House’s chief digital officer is a former Google employee. • One of the top assistants to the chairman of the FCC is a former Google employee and another ran a public lobbying firm funded in part by Google. • The director of United States Digital Service, responsible for fixing and maintaining, is a former Google employee.

• The director of the US Patent and Trademark Office is the former head of patents at Google. And of course the revolving door goes both in and out of the government, as the Google Transparency Project (an independent watchdog report) clearly stated.

• There have been fifty-three revolving-door moves between Google and the White House.

• Those moves involved twenty-two former White House officials who left the administration to work for Google and thirty-one Google executives (or executives from Google’s main outside firms) who joined the White House or were appointed to federal advisory boards.

• There have been twenty-eight revolving-door moves between Google and government that involve national security, intelligence, or the Department of Defense. Seven former national security and intelligence officials and eighteen Pentagon officials moved to Google, while three Google executives moved to the Defense Department.

• There have been twenty-three revolving-door moves between Google and the State Department during the Obama administration. Eighteen former State Department officials joined Google, while five Google officials took up senior posts at the State Department.

• There have been nine moves between either Google or its outside lobbying firms and the Federal Communications Commission, which handles a growing number of regulatory matters that have a major impact on the company’s bottom line.

The dynamics of each are likely to be different. But there’s still much we can learn about how to address this newer ‘revolving door’ from those who have been campaigning against the much more entrenched one.

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