More Foxes

Bush Continues to Put Corporate Types in Federal Agencies

More bizarre appointments by the Bush administration. This problem is reaching fox-guarding-the-chicken-coop proportions.

Those of you who know how government works are fully aware of the difference agency heads and other top officials can make in the workings of a bureaucracy. With a president who is notoriously uninterested in details, those in charge of the details often actually set the policy. As we have seen in Texas, even when George W. has what might be a good idea, like charter schools, sloppy execution can result in disaster.

"Captive agencies'' are a constant problem in government. They are agencies supposedly in charge of regulating an industry or group, which then acquires undue influence over or even control of the agency. In Texas, the most spectacular example is the state's equivalent of an environmental protection agency, to which then-Gov. Bush appointed three commissioners who literally represent major groups of polluters. Texas is, of course, Number One in toxic pollution. The pattern continues in Washington.

  • Bush has nominated B. John Williams, a corporate tax attorney, as chief counsel to the Internal Revenue Service. According to The Wall Street Journal, Williams won a case that could jeopardize the government's attempts to crack down on corporate tax havens. The decision allows two companies to post the same loss when one sells a money-losing unit to the other. Sure, that's fair, just the way you get to double your deductions, right? If the decision stands, it is expected to cost the IRS $10 billion in annual revenue.

    In another case, also reported in the Journal, B. John Williams (beware the man who parts his initials on the wrong side) tried to justify disputed tax credits taken by his client, Shell Oil Co. He did so by hiring a private investigator, who provided false information to destroy the credibility of the government's expert witnesses. One witness later sued for defamation, a case that was settled out of court, the settlement paid for by Shell.

  • J. Steven Griles, new deputy secretary at the Interior Department, was a top lobbyist for the oil, gas and coal industries. The new solicitor, William Myers III, was top guy at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and represented the grazing interests in lawsuits against the policies he will now be enforcing. The new Number Two at the EPA was a lobbyist for Monsanto. And as the new chairman of the Council on Environmental Equality, Bush wants the lawyer who represented General Electric in its fight with the EPA over toxic waste sites.
  • A sentimental favorite of mine is Jon Huntsman Jr., the new deputy trade representative, who is hot to trot on a new round of trade liberalization under the World Trade Organization. Huntsman resigned from the privately owned Huntsman Corporation, a familiar name in Bush's hometown. Huntsman is famous in Midland-Odessa for its ``upsets,'' burn-offs of benzene, butadiene and other carcinogens. Huntsman gets fines even under Texas' toothless standards, and has already paid millions to the plant's neighbors over ``upsets.'' A Huntsman spokesman was quoted in Vanity Fair magazine: ``We fear that Huntsman is being held up as the poster child'' for Bush's lousy environmental record in Texas. Huntsman Jr. was a Commerce Department official under Bush the Elder.

    Some of these appointments are merely ironic, if you have a strong stomach. Others literally involve matters of life and death. As Arthur Miller once wrote, ``Attention must be paid.''

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