Double Oops!

Few are unfamiliar with Rick Perry’s “oopsable” performance during the run-up to the Republican presidential primary during a debate in 2011. Perry was discussing his jobs and flat tax plan when he said, “And I will tell you, it is three agencies of government when I get there that are gone. Commerce, Education, and the … what’s the third one there? Let’s see.” When he was unable to name the third agency, he blurted, “Oops!”

A few minutes later, Perry, having checked his debate notes, declared that the third agency was the Department of Energy . . . to which President Trump ultimately appointed him Secretary. “From time to time, you may forget about an agency that you are gonna zero out,” Perry added. “Everybody tomorrow will understand the Energy Department is one of those that needs to be done away with.” 

Perry, the former governor of Texas, had largely avoided headlines since joining the Trump administration in 2017. But in recent weeks he became entangled in the Democratic-led impeachment probe into Trump’s actions involving Ukraine.  He was among the choices to “drain the swamp” as one of the standard white male cabinet appointees. However, as has been the fate of a number of his cabinet colleagues, Perry’s brush with the Ukraine weirdness involving Rudy Giuliani and several other individuals of questionable character may have spurred his announcement of departure from the administration by the end of 2019.

In January 2017, the President signed an order banning administration officials for life as foreign lobbyists and for five years for all other lobbying activities. However, the ban was prospective only, not retroactive.

Not to worry, though! The Department of Energy has a deputy secretary ready, willing, and able to assume the lead role. But, most importantly, Perry’s replacement qualifies as another stellar icon in the administration’s firmament of all-stars promised by the President to be “the best people.”  

In January 2017, the President signed an order banning administration officials for life as foreign lobbyists and for five years for all other lobbying activities. However, the ban was prospective only, not retroactive, as a White House spokesperson noted. “It’s not about your past, it’s about your future.” The hiring of lobbyists in the current administration has reached 281 individuals, according to a report by ProPublica and the Columbia Journalism Review. It should be noted that the agency placements for these folks has not been hit-or-miss; most have been guided into agencies where their past lobbying experience coincided with the agency’s scope of operation—and in many cases, such as EPA, Education, and Interior, an antipathy toward the agency’s mission or even existence.

Trump recently tweeted that Dan Brouillette, the Deputy Secretary of Energy, would be nominated as Perry’s successor, and that he had “unparalleled” experience, calling him a “total professional” (without vetting how would that be known?). Brouillette previously worked as an executive at USAA, which provides insurance and other financial services to military members and their families, and at Ford Motor Co. He also worked as an assistant energy secretary under President George W. Bush, and as a Louisiana state energy regulator.

In this way, the past expertise of lobbyists in this administration will not be lost and is expected to benefit America in the future. The soon-to-be Energy secretary joins a hall of fame band of administration officials whose experience was sought to guide the national bureaucracy. Among other Trump swampbusters who have made headlines:

Andrew Wheeler, head of EPA, former coal lobbyist

Mark Esper (mistakenly called Esperanto by Trump), Acting Defense Secretary, former Raytheon lobbyist

Scott Pruitt, former head of EPA who resigned due to scandal

Alex Azar, present Secretary of HHS, former drug company lobbyist

Ryan Zinke, former Interior secretary, who resigned due to scandal

David Bernhardt, acting Interior secretary, former oil and gas lobbyist (now under investigation)

At present there exists little insight in this administration into personnel selections to lead the ship of state, other than the present whim of its captain.

These few represent but the tip of the iceberg; the body of the larger mass is constituted by a rainbow of colorful individuals—not all of whom were or are lobbyists. This integrity-deficient crew includes Michael Flynn, Rex Tillerson, Reince Priebus, Kirstjen Nielsen, Hope Hicks, Steve Bannon, John Bolton, Sebastian Gorka, and many others. The turnover has been almost nonstop, but no observer has yet isolated the qualities necessary for swamp draining. The President himself has simply said, “There are people who have done a bad job, and I let them go. If you call that turmoil, I don’t call that turmoil. I say that is being smart. That’s what we do.”

Rick Perry can be credited with the first “Oops” moment, and his boss is engaged in the next phase of “Oopsery.” At present there exists little insight in this administration into personnel selections to lead the ship of state, other than the present whim of its captain. Perhaps when this president is no longer in office, historians will develop the information and analysis necessary to demarcate the periods of “Oopsness” so that all can appreciate how not to repeat such mistakes.

 



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