Apparently, much like an Ivy League business or law degree, having FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) on your resume makes you a hot commodity on the job market, especially in the very industries — power utilities, oil and gas companies and natural gas exporters — that FERC regulates. And FERC appears to have no problem with you actively seeking employment with companies in these industries while still on the FERC payroll, as long as you inform FERC and recuse yourself from cases involving those companies.
In These Times previously described FERC’s relationship with industry as a “revolving door,” but based on information recently received by energy and environmental website Greenwire in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, perhaps revolving door isn’t the correct term. It is more like there is no door at all, and FERC is just a springboard to lucrative private-sector employment.
The documents Greenwire received included letters of recusal filed by FERC employees notifying their superiors that they were actively seeking work with corporations that FERC regulated. While the practice of notifying your boss that you are applying for jobs elsewhere might seem foreign to private sector employees, these letters are required at government agencies if there may be a conflict of interest.
According to the newly released documents, more than 70 of these letters were filed in 2014 (FERC employs approximately 1,300 people). Most of the names of the employees on the documents are redacted, but it is likely that some of the letters are from the same employee seeking multiple opportunities. In one letter, an ambitious employee disclosed seeking employment with eight companies regulated by FERC.
And while the recusals are seen as a way to avoid conflicts of interest, the reality is that the conflict of interest can emerge later: FERC employees are being hired for the value of the FERC relationships they can leverage in their new jobs.
Greenwire interviewed Travis Fisher, a former FERC employee, to learn why the energy industry is so keen to hire people like him. Fisher now works for the Institute for Energy Research, funded in part by the Koch brothers and Exxon Mobil, a think tank that publishes anti-renewable-energy articles like “Solar Panels: Another Taxpayer Rip-Off.”
“Someone fresh out of FERC is extra valuable because of their knowledge of the politics of the organization,” Fisher told Greenwire.
This would indicate that instead of being an impartial regulatory agency, FERC is a political environment where who you know matters. And thus hiring a FERC employee with intimate knowledge of organizational politics is a smart investment for a corporation seeking approval from FERC.
This environment was described to In These Times by former FERC employee Carolyn Elefant.
“Nobody breaks the rules,” says Elefant. “But rules are one thing and personal relationships are another. …It’s smaller things like being able to get a meeting with a commissioner or talk to somebody on staff. … And it’s also knowing the kinds of things that FERC will do. So, those things can all give you an advantage.”
Corporations, it appears, are lining up to pay for that advantage. It’s the free market at work. Need help dealing with regulations? What better way than to hire a former regulator.