Alaska editorial: 'Revolving door' law for state workers is too lax

Posted: Tuesday, March 22, 2005

This editorial appeared in Thursday's Anchorage Daily News:

Alaska supposedly has a law preventing state workers from jumping right into jobs with an employer who was in a position to benefit from their official state actions.

The operative word there is "supposedly."

The law simply isn't working. As documented by the Alaska Budget Report, some high-ranking state officials have taken fast, lucrative spins through the revolving door between government service and the private sector.

Former Fish and Game Commissioner Kevin Duffy is one. As part of his state job, he sat on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, where he helped set rules for factory trawlers that work Alaska's offshore waters. Mr. Duffy went directly from his state job to run the At-Sea Processors Association, an influential trade group that represents factory trawlers working Alaska's offshore waters.

Mr. Duffy did not have to wait at all before taking the job, as any effective law designed to close the "revolving door" would require. Alaska's law is so loose, Mr. Duffy didn't even apply for a waiver that would eliminate Alaska's two-year waiting period. Both the Knowles and Murkowski administrations have liberally issued those waivers.

One of those generous waivers recently went to Greg Fisk, a fisheries development coordinator with the Department of Commerce. He was involved in the department's decision on a grant to the University of Alaska. The university then recruited Mr. Fisk to a job funded by that grant.

Another waiver went to David Quisenberry. At the Department of Labor, he approved a vocational rehabilitation contract, and six months later asked permission to go to work for the contractor.

Another beneficiary is Ed Fisher, former deputy commissioner of labor. He sat on the governor's natural gas Cabinet, where he helped oversee state contractors who are helping push for the North Slope gas line. After leaving state employment, Fisher nabbed a $225-an-hour job with the consultant who advises the state on gas line promotion. His pay rate is roughly five times what he earned working for the state. Last month alone, he billed the state for $38,000.

Perhaps the most stunning spin through the revolving-door loophole was taken by Gov. Tony Knowles' commissioner of administration, Jim Duncan. The administration commissioner oversees negotiations with state employee unions. Less than three months after leaving that post, Mr. Duncan took the helm of the largest union representing state employees. Mr. Duncan said at the time his move was legal, even though he admitted that the union would consult him on the salary negotiations that had just begun and that he "might even sit and listen at the (negotiating) table."

State employees can use their taxpayer-supported jobs to make themselves very attractive to employers who want to do business with or influence the state. Alaska's law leaves too much room for ethically dubious back-scratching.

A revolving-door law with any teeth would apply to all state employees above a certain rank. It would say those employees must wait a year before taking a job with an employer with whom the official had repeated contact in his or her official capacity. No waivers, no exceptions.

For higher-ranking officials, working on the state payroll shouldn't be a ticket to a high-paying job with an employer who seeks influence or business with the state.



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