Have you ever heard of the start-up Zoox? Neither have I, but you’re probably going to hear a lot about the company in the not-so-distant future since they recently hired Mark Rosekind. Yes, the same Mark Rosekind who just stepped down as the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
This raises a bunch of questions about the relationship between the public and private sectors.
Before we get into Rosekind’s position at Zoox, it is important to know about President Trump’s executive order in January dealing with lobbyists. One of the loudest mantras of Trump’s presidential campaign was “draining the swamp,” – i.e. get rid of all the career politicians/bureaucrats and the lobbyists who influence them.
On Jan. 28, President Trump signed Executive Order 13770, Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch Appointees. Included in the order:
Essentially, the executive order limits what a former and current appointee can do with the lobbying industry. The executive order will affect only appointees hired on or after Jan. 20. The idea here is to make the line between special interests groups/private industries and government less blurry and more clear and concrete.
Rosekind’s move to Zoox immediately after leaving NHTSA is exactly why President Trump signed that executive order. The move makes you wonder whether Rosekind was offered the job because of his role at NHTSA or whether his role at NHTSA was influenced by a job he knew was waiting for him.
Under Rosekind’s tenure at NHTSA, the agency was relatively pro-automation, setting an automated vehicles policy last September. In November 2016, Rosekind testified before the Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade regarding the issue of self-driving vehicles. His testimony leaned towards the side of pro-automation and speeding up the process.
Had Zoox been in contact with Rosekind during his time as NHTSA administrator? We may never know the answer to that question. However, the short time between his leaving NHTSA and working for Zoox might raise a few eyebrows.
I’m not arguing that lobbying should go away. Without lobbyists, the voices of Americans’ interests would be weak at best if not completely silent. Access to politicians allows lobbyists to do what the average American cannot – i.e. influence Washington.
On the other hand, without checks and balances, it is hard to tell who lobbyists and politicians are really working for. Are policies being set because lobbyists are doing their job or are policies being set because a current administrator wants a cushy lobbyist job when he or she leaves?
NHTSA administrators are Level III positions under the executive schedule, meaning they earn a salary of $172,100, according to the latest pay executive order. That’s a lot to most people, but consider this: According to The Nation, congressmen can earn a 1,452 percent raise on average when leaving politics for lobbying. I’m guessing administrator pay raises are not far off from that number.
Will President Trump’s lobbying executive order slow down potential corruption? Time will tell. In the meantime, let’s hope Rosekind received Zoox’s job offer after his actions on self-driving cars and not before.
Tyson Fisher, staff writer and research associate, joined Land Line Magazine in March 2014. An award-winning journalist and tireless researcher, his news reports, features and blogs bring depth to our editorial content, backed with solid detail. Tyson received his journalism degree from the University of Missouri – Kansas City.