Former EPA administrator Carol Browner speaks at the American Progress event, Special Interest Takeover. (Photo by Liz Roll)
Special Interest Takeover
The Bush Administration and the Dismantling of Public Safeguards
A Record of Rollbacks
Within months of taking offi ce, the Bush administration moved to kill or weaken a host of Clinton-era safeguards, including medical privacy protections, new energy effi ciency standards, and ergonomics rules to protect workers, just to name a few. More than three years later, the rollbacks continue, showing no signs of letting up. What special interests want, they get– leaving the public to pay the price.
White House Roadblock
Where legal requirements have demanded government action, White House regulatory czar John Graham has stepped in and made sure standards were developed to industry’s liking. For example, Graham gutted agency proposals to alert drivers of under-infl ated tires, limit construction runoff, and cut diesel emissions from large ships and tankers. At the same time, he has erected new blockades that tilt the entire standard-setting process to favor special interests.
The Toll of Neglect
The Bush administration has halted progress on health, safety and the environment, turning a blind eye to some of the nation’s most pressing problems. For example, nothing has been done to improve safety at chemical plants; workers continue to die from an array of preventable hazards; and more than 90 percent of nursing homes are understaffed, leading to overworked employees and inadequate care for residents.
Cop Off the Beat
For standards that remain on the books, the administration is scaling back enforcement efforts. For instance, the average penalty for willful worker safety violations has fallen by 25 percent; actions against misleading drug promotions have plummeted by almost 80 percent; and administration offi cials ignored repeated food safety violations at a Wampler Foods plant, which produced Listeria-contaminated turkey that killed eight and sickened more than 50, prompting the largest recall in U.S. history.
Sworn to Secrecy
The Bush administration has broadly restricted information that could be used to hold government and corporate interests accountable for their actions. For instance, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has made it more diffi cult for the public to evaluate defi ciencies in the electrical grid, while the administration has sought to muzzle government whistleblowers seeking to alert the public of imminent danger.
Politics Over Science
When science fi nds a serious health or environmental problem, there is frequently public pressure to respond through regulatory action, which the administration is loath to pursue. The White House has sought to protect itself politically by keeping the public in the dark or even manufacturing “evidence” for its case. In other words, the agenda drives the information, not the other way around.
Upon taking offi ce, the Bush administration immediately moved to repeal contractor responsibility standards – meant to stop taxpayer dollars from going to chronic lawbreakers – and later adopted new rules to privatize the federal workforce and steer social-service grants to religious institutions, threatening to create a modern-day spoils system. At the same time, grantees that disagree with the president’s policies have faced continuous harassment, including retaliatory audits.
Whose Government is This?
Our government should work for the broader public interest. Instead, ex-industry lobbyists have assumed key agency positions, and used this power to reward their former employers, who trade in large-scale campaign contributions. We must work together to reclaim our government from the special interests.