Clicky

Should Congress close the revolving door in the technology industry?

Newly introduced Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) bring together six Democratic and six Republican co-sponsors American Innovation and Choice Online Act illustrates the increasing dynamism of the two parties in regulating large technology platforms, particularly Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. But in parallel with increasing examination Another trend has emerged from the Senate and the House of Representatives in recent years: increased investment in the lobbying work of these four companies. October 5th, Senator Klobuchar expressed concern in this regard during the Hearing from Facebook whistleblowers– that despite the ongoing work on cartel reform, many technology policy issues in Congress have stalled because “there are lobbyists hired by the technology industry on every corner of this building”.

To put Senator Klobuchar’s claim in context, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and alphabet/Google currently work with around 320 internal and external lobbyists – up from 189 in 2011 – as well as other political and legal staff. According to data compiled by OpenSecrets, these four companies combined spent over $ 53 million on lobbying spending in 2020, compared to about $ 16 million in 2011 some of the biggest corporate spending in this area.

In addition to spending, the “revolving door” commonly known as the “revolving door” of former Capitol Hill employees moving to lobbyists or vice versa can have a profound impact on political debates surrounding big tech companies. Lobbyists shape certain political positions by recommending statutory wording, suggesting questions for hearings, meeting with convention bureaus, supporting re-election campaigns, advising on PAC donations, and much more. The extensive staff exchanges raise questions not only about the impact, but also about the impact of frequent fluctuations: issues such as antitrust law, data protection, cybersecurity and algorithmic transparency require considerable political or technical knowledge, and the legislative process can potentially stagnate if seasoned employees leave congressional committees and member offices.

Examination of proposals to combat the influence of lobbying

To address these concerns, some lawmakers have proposed measures to strengthen the current code of ethics that temporarily restrict members of Congress and certain employees who wish to lobby after they have left the civil service. [1] Many of the recent proposals to reform existing restrictions are aimed at elected officials who exercise significantly more political authority and influence than employees. Example: Representative Jared Golden (D-ME) reintroduced laws March 2021 to permanently ban former members of Congress from lobbying. From both sides of the aisle came high-profile calls for the implementation of similar guard rails – in May 2019, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) publicly endorsed for a “lifelong ban” or “at least … a long wait” to prevent Congressmen from lobbying.

However, some lawmakers have gone further, widening this focus to include measures that would affect the ability of former employees to enter the lobbying profession immediately. For example, Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) provided the Close the revolving door law in 2019, which aimed to increase existing post-employment lobbying restrictions for congressional staff from one year to six years. Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) introduced the End the Congressional Revolving Door Act in 2019 and 2021which proposes the end of retirement and other government benefits for senior employees and elected members who become lobbyists. However, none of these bills advanced in their respective legislative periods.

Improvement of morale and technical know-how in Congress

Many proposals aim to mitigate a possible undue influence on public order, but it is also important to distinguish which post-employment restrictions are appropriate given their overarching differences in political autonomy and position for employees compared to elected officials can. In particular, it should be remembered that new post-employment restrictions could discourage individuals from seeking employment in government at all, especially if their pathways to career development are less defined. For potential employees who have financial difficulties, such as student loans or dependents, or who belong to traditionally marginalized communities and who are more likely to experience systemic disadvantage or exclusion in the workplace, post-employment flexibility can become a particularly pressing consideration.

To both improve retention and ease access to lawmakers for individuals from all backgrounds, it is important to focus on measures that increase, rather than decrease, employee development skills, a fair work environment, and living wages . In order to achieve this goal, in addition to the introduction of stricter restrictions after the end of the employment relationship, it is also necessary to deal with structural problems that can exacerbate the consequences of employee departures – salaries, job satisfaction and investments in technical knowledge.

One of the most pressing actions to improve recruitment and retention on Capitol Hill is to raise salaries to keep pace with the rising cost of living, in particular in the Washington, DC area. A 2013 Survey by the Congressional Management Foundation and the Society for Human Resource Management found that 51% of congressional workers who left their offices cited “desire to make more money” as an important factor in their decision. 2019 HR assistants earned an average annual salary from $ 42,272, down 16% from 2010, adjusted for inflation. Spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) recently the maximum annual salary increased for senior executives of the House from $ 174,000 to $ 199,300 and increased the House’s office budgets by 13%, but none of the measures address the pay gap between executive and junior employees. For example, the University of Utah professor Joshua McCrain noticed, that even if the House of Representatives office budgets increased 14% from 2008 to 2010 – one of the biggest increases in recent years – salaries at all levels of the workforce, including entry-level workers, did not improve.

In addition to improving salaries, job satisfaction is an equally important consideration as Hill employees can balance heavy workloads and address potentially stressful political issues. The same CMF-SHRM survey found that a lack of professional development opportunities, work-life balance and stress are also frequently cited as reasons for employee migration. Therefore, it is important to continually reassess and prioritize opportunities for teleworking, family engagement, and other employee resources. Convention bureaus could also consider clearer frameworks for career development, especially to open up avenues to encourage people of color and members of other underrepresented communities in higher positions (according to a House survey 2019 and a Joint Center report 2020, only 11% of senior Senate officials and 21% of senior House officials identify as black).

Finally, it is important to consider how Congress can move technology legislation forward, even if seasoned employees choose to leave the company. For those interested in technology and telecommunications, working in the private sector could provide an opportunity to gain other skills and experience. On the other hand, congress members can also benefit from hiring people with different levels of technological knowledge – often including those with experience in the private sector. Even outside of specifically combating churn or lobbying restrictions after the end of the employment relationship, Congress can support its technology policy work by more actively recruiting STEM employees, offering employee training for technical skills, resources in both the Congressional Research Service and the Government Accountability Office reassessed and is considering reinstatement the Technology Assessment Office to provide information on relevant issues.

In summary, the American Innovation and Choice Online Act is current and shows remarkable bipartisan support. But, as Senator Klobuchar pointed out, it can be difficult to pass a bill to rehabilitate big tech without addressing some fundamental issues within Congress itself.


[1]: Former employees of the legislature are currently subject to certain restrictions after the termination of their employment, depending on the chamber, office and seniority. For example, former members of the House of Representatives cannot lobby for a year after leaving office, and former senators face similar restrictions for two years after leaving office. For example, a professional on the Senate Commerce Committee would be prevented from lobbying for the offices of his former committee and committee members for a year after leaving Congress. For a description of these restrictions, see 18 USC § 207 or “Don’t Let The Door Hit You On Your Way Out: An Introduction To Revolving Door Limitations”, Covington & Burling, May 21, 2018.

Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google are general, unreserved donors to the Brookings Institution. The results, interpretations, and conclusions published in this article are those of the author only and are not influenced by donations.