From Public To Private: How The Revolving Door Affects Politics

photo by Sasha Kimel via Flickr

The transition from government to private sector is not a new occurrence. In fact, switching sides has become prevalent enough to earn its own term — “the revolving door”– and federal regulation to boot. But many are unhappy with the blurred public and private line. Let’s take a look.

The revolving door

Specifically, the revolving door refers to three different transitions:

  • Government to lobbyist: where former policymakers use their governmental influence as an edge in corporate lobbying.

  • Government to private sector: where former lawmakers take up prestigious jobs on Wall Street and other industries, using their past government connections to their advantage

  • Private to public: wherein former private sector employees develop policy around already existing corporations

Eric Cantor–now, former Republican house majority leader–has found himself the latest beneficiary of the revolving door. Leaving his government post, Cantor has accepted a $3.4 million contract from a Wall Street investment firm. Cantor, however, is far from the first of his kind. Some other notable government to private transitioners are:

  • Timothy Geithner: from 2009 to 2013 Geithner served as president of the Federal Reserve, but currently helms the private equity firm Warburg Pincus.

  • Tony West: Associate Attorney General, Tony West, announced that he would be leaving his position as third in command at the U.S. Justice Department for an unspecified private sector job.

  • Gregory Martin: Former U.S. Air Force General took up a job at Northrop Grumman after retiring in 2005

Must you leave so soon?

Often times for public officials–even despite federal benefits and influence–the question isn’t why leave, it’s why not?

In a federal survey, by the Office of Personnel Management, employee satisfaction amongst public officials was found to be 13 points below the average private sector employee. Below are some common reasons for the public to private leap.

  • More pay: A recent report by the Congressional Budget Office shows that government employees with a professional degree or doctorate make significantly less than their private sector counterparts.

  • Job Safety: Often, public employees must be wary of declining budgets and sequestration. Many private companies aim to persuade top government employees through higher wages and job security.

  • Freedom: Government jobs are often bogged down by bureaucracy and politics, leaving greater occupational freedom for public employees.

What’s the fuss about?

Though the motives of crossover officials may not always be quite as malevolent as they’re perceived, serious ramifications are possible.

Statutes like “the cooling off period,” which institutes a predetermined time ban on former government employees looking to enter lobbying positions, are indicative of both a public and governmental wariness of these divergent career-seekers.

Skepticisms of the revolving door emanate from deep-seated notions that such a transition would cloud governmental intent–i.e. lobbying for big business as opposed to public interest.

From such concerns a set of statutes was borne–most notable in the laws surrounding these transitions is the disparity between executive and congressional branch regulations (the latter being significantly more lax)


  • Officials in the executive branch are forbidden to simultaneously seek future employment and work on government policy

  • Waivers for exceptions are granted and are decided upon by the Office of Governmental Ethics (though an executive order under President Bush Jr. requires this body to consult with the White House Office of General Counsel First)


  • There is no conflict of interest statute

  • Rules are outlined in the congressional “code of ethics”

  • Such rules carry no actual punitive recourse

Given the fact there are no true regulations regarding congressional crossover, we can expect to see it continue as we have in the past. How it affects American politics, however, we’ll just have to wait and see.

We measure success by the understanding we deliver. If you could express it as a percentage, how much fresh understanding did we provide?
James Pero