Warren, Jayapal Question Raimondo on Big Tech Revolving Door at Department of Commerce and Its Impact on Global Digital Trade Rules
“Reports – combined with your own stated commitment to protect Big Tech’s market share from EU regulation and unanswered questions about your meetings with Big Tech – raise serious concerns about your agency’s approach to digital trade policy in the TTC and IPEF.
The American people deserve to know that your agency is working on their behalf and not for past or future Big Tech employers,” wrote the lawmakers.
Washington, D.C.— United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo raising questions about the revolving door between the Department of Commerce and Big Tech companies, and its potential impact on global digital trade rules. In the letter, the lawmakers express concerns about how key Commerce officials who previously worked for Big Tech companies now work at the Department and may have the ability to shape digital trade policies. The lawmakers also request information about the safeguards the Department has in place to prevent corruption and ensure that corporate interests do not undermine the digital rights of global consumers, workers, and small businesses. The lawmakers’ questions come as Commerce is currently engaged in digital trade negotiations in the U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council (TTC) and the proposed Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF).
“Congress is considering important steps to rein in Big Tech and protect consumers, workers, and small businesses, as are trading partners like the European Union (EU). But Big Tech companies want to continue to exploit our data unchecked, and are deploying hordes of lobbyists to stop legislatures from acting. At the same time, Big Tech is seeking to weaponize global digital trade rules, painting privacy regulations or competition policy as unfair ‘barriers to trade’ in order to tie regulators’ hands,” wrote the lawmakers.
The use of the revolving door is not a new problem at the Commerce Department. According to a review of executive branch staff under former President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama, 18 percent of Commerce appointees were registered as lobbyists before or after their government service (or both), the highest of all Cabinet departments. A recent analysis by the Revolving Door Project highlighted Big Tech’s current influence within the Department, with several former employees for companies like Google and Amazon filling key Commerce roles.
For example, former Commerce Deputy Assistant Secretary Christopher Hoff has taken several turns through the revolving door between the Department of Commerce and Big Tech. Hoff worked on digital trade policy at the Commerce Department during the Obama Administration, but left in 2015 to work for law firms that represent Big Tech. In 2021, Hoff returned to Commerce as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Services at the International Trade Administration, where he continued to push for weaker data regulation that would permit Big Tech companies to extract data from people with little government oversight.
“These reports – combined with your own stated commitment to protect Big Tech’s market share from EU regulation and unanswered questions about your meetings with Big Tech – raise serious concerns about your agency’s approach to digital trade policy in the TTC and IPEF. The American people deserve to know that your agency is working on their behalf and not for past or future Big Tech employers,” continued the lawmakers.
Senator Warren has long pushed to end corrupt revolving door practices, curb Big Tech’s growing power, and protect consumer data.
- In March 2022, in a letter to Secretary Raimondo, Senator Warren raised concerns that Secretary Raimondo’s comments appeared to undermine the Biden Administration’s trade and regulatory proposals for big tech.
- Last month, Senator Warren, along with Representatives Katie Porter (D-Calif.) and Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), sent a letter to three government watchdogs regarding troubling reports of Intuit’s abuse of the revolving door and the company’s hiring of former federal regulators and influence-peddlers to defend its shady business practices.
- In February 2022, Senator Warren and Representative Jayapal called on two inspectors general to open an investigation into the unethical revolving door between the world’s largest accounting firms and the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service.
- In July 2019, Senator Warren wrote to Commerce’s Designated Agency Ethics Official regarding potentially serious conflicts of interest for the two most senior Commerce officials responsible for managing exemptions from President Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs
- Senator Warren and Representative Jayapal introduced the Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act, which, if passed into law, would firmly shut the revolving door.
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