Dozens of Energy Regulators Applied for Industry Jobs in 2014

Documents obtained by Greenwire show that FERC employees are actively and frequently seeking employment with the companies they regulate.

Justin Mikulka

In one recusal letter, a FERC employee disclosed seeking employment at eight different companies regulated by FERC (Greenwire).

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. 

The reality is that the conflict of interest may come post facto: FERC employees are being hired for the value of the FERC relationships they can leverage in their new jobs.

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.

Justin Mikul­ka is a free­lance writer and video pro­duc­er focused on issues relat­ing to the ener­gy indus­try. He is a con­tribut­ing writer at DeSmog­blog and his writ­ing has appeared in Alter­net, Truthout and Nation of Change. Justin has a degree in Civ­il and Envi­ron­men­tal engi­neer­ing from Cor­nell Uni­ver­si­ty. E‑mail him at mikul­ka at gmail​.com, fol­low him on Twit­ter @justinmikulka or vis­it his web­site at www​.justin​mikul​ka​.com.
Limited Time:

SUBSCRIBE TO IN THESE TIMES MAGAZINE FOR JUST $1 A MONTH