If you want a good example of the “swamp” in action, and not just the one floating around in Donald Trump’s head, you needn’t look any further than Joe Balash.
Until last Friday, Balash was an assistant secretary in the Interior Department overseeing land and minerals management. Part of his duties in this role included oversight over oil and gas drilling on federal land. By all accounts, Balash was extremely enthusiastic about this, pushing for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in his native Alaska. (Prior to his stint at Interior, Balash was the chief of staff for Alaska GOP Sen. Dan Sullivan and a special assistant to former Gov. Sarah Palin.)
Balash has now left the Interior department, but as the Washington Post reported on Wednesday, he hasn’t left the business of trying to bleed Alaska dry of its oil. Balash is now joining the Papua New Guinea-based Oil Search, a company which, according to the Post, is “developing one of Alaska’s largest oil prospects in years.” Those prospects reportedly include drilling on state lands near ANWR and the National Petroleum Reserve.
If you have any doubt about the fecklessness of laws around revolving doors, though, don’t worry: even though Balash is going to be overseeing employees who deal with Interior in this new mystery job he won’t say anything about, he knows he’s banned from lobbying for five years. Per the Post:
Balash declined to disclose his specific role and said that while he would oversee employees who would work with the federal government on energy policy, he would abide by the Trump ethics pledge barring appointees from lobbying their former agencies for five years.
“I’ll supervise those who do,” he said, referring to Oil Search staffers with business before the federal government, “but I have a ton of restrictions dealing with the Department of Interior. Most of Oil Search’s properties are state lands. There isn’t really the federal nexus.”
Well, not yet, anyway.
Balash is just the latest example of Trump officials bouncing directly from the administration to the private sector to do work related to what they did in the federal government, and vice versa. You needn’t look any further than Environmental Protection Agency—where Scott Pruitt left after about twelve thousand scandals to go be a coal consultant, and was replaced in that role by a coal lobbyist.
This is what normal, everyday corruption looks like: a game of musical chairs in which everyone gets a seat, so long as you’re willing to do the bidding of industry. Congrats to Joe Balash!