- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 11, 2015

President Obama may not always have the best relationship with the business world, but many former members of his administration do. With 19 months left for the administration, many high-level officials have already sought out employment in the private sector.

The latest example came just this week when former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was hired as “global communications officer” for fast-food giant McDonald’s Corp., just the latest top administration figure to find a well-compensated niche in the corporate sector.

Mr. Gibbs will help “lead McDonald’s in communicating clear, coordinated messages to internal and external constituencies, enhancing the brand and supporting corporate strategies,” the company said in its statement announcing the hire.

Advocates for government transparency are deeply disturbed by the ongoing exodus from the Cabinet Room to the boardroom, saying it was especially disappointing given Mr. Obama’s early promises — often relayed to the press by Mr. Gibbs — that he would end the two-way traffic between lobbyists and the executive branch.

“As the Obama presidency winds down, the revolving-door is spinning faster than ever,” said Chris Gates, president of the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that advocates for open government. “Despite efforts put in place by this administration to curb the phenomenon we’re seeing more and more people brazenly cashing in on their government experience.”

Mr. Gibbs will be traveling a well-worn path, following in the footsteps of several of his colleagues from the Obama administration, including former Office of Management and Budget chief Peter Orszag, who now makes $4 million as a vice chairman at Citigroup, and Obama senior political aide David Plouffe, who last year took on a job nearly identical to Mr. Gibbs‘ new post as senior vice president of communications and public policy for the ride-sharing service Uber.

Jay Carney, who replaced Mr. Gibbs as Mr. Obama’s top spokesman, now holds the position of vice president for worldwide corporate affairs at Amazon, and former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta now sits on the board of FleishmanHillard Incorporated. Former Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner took a job as president of Wall Street private equity firm Warburg Pincus.

After retiring from the Department of Defense last year, Marine Gen. James Mattis has worked for FWA Consultants and sits on the Board of Directors for General Dynamics. In 2013 private equity firm KKR & Co hired former CIA director and retired Army Gen. David Petraeus to head its new Global Institute.

The attraction of top government officials to corporate recruiters is obvious, particularly for companies such as Uber and McDonald’s which face constant and growing legal and regulatory questions involving safety rules, labor practices and taxes.

But critics of the practice argue that hiring former government officials with a dense network of connections still involved in the decision-making gives an unfair edge for companies to advance their own self-interests using public funds and policies.

However, a bridge to a well-paying private sector post after government is far from guaranteed — Obama administration officials looking to jump ship should be hoping a Democrat succeeds their boss in the Oval Office in 2017.

“Former government officials are much less in demand for company boards when their party is out of power,” wrote Richard Lester, a professor of management at Texas A&M University, who coauthored a 2008 research paper tracking the data of post-governmental employment for officials. His research suggests members of the out-of-power party see their chance of joining the board of a large corporation fall by nearly a third.

“If your party is completely out of power, your Rolodex is not as lucrative as it used to be. The people you know are probably gone,” he said.

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