The Intercept looks at how the private sector co-ops the public sector in the US
MEET THE CONSULTING FIRM THAT’S STAFFING THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION
WestExec represented major corporations throughout the Trump years. Now it’s in the White House.
FROM ITS HEADQUARTERS just blocks from the White House, a small, high-powered team of former ambassadors, lawyers, and Obama appointees has spent the past few years solving problems for the world’s biggest companies.
Less than six months into the Biden administration, more than 15 consultants from the firm WestExec Advisors have fanned out across the White House, its foreign policy apparatus, and its law enforcement institutions. Five, some of whom already have jobs with the administration, have been nominated for high-ranking posts, and four others served on the Biden-Harris transition team. Even by Washington standards, it’s a remarkable march through the revolving door, especially for a firm that only launched in 2017. The pipeline has produced a dominance of WestExec alums throughout the administration, installed in senior roles as influential as director of national intelligence and secretary of state. WestExec clients, meanwhile, have controversial interests in tech and defense that intersect with the policies their former consultants are now in a position to set and execute.
The arrival of each new WestExec adviser at the administration has been met with varying degrees of press coverage — headlines for the secretary of state, blurbs in trade publications for the head of cybersecurity — but the creeping monopolization of foreign policymaking by a single boutique consulting firm has gone largely unnoticed. The insularity of this network of policymakers poses concerns about the potential for groupthink, conflicts of interest, and what can only be called, however oxymoronically, legalized corruption.
WestExec does not affirmatively share its clients, and public financial disclosure forms only offer broad outlines. Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, says that government ethics laws written decades ago aren’t equipped to handle a situation in which a single firm launches 15 senior officials. “Yes, they’re employed by the government, I’ll grant you that. But are they actually working for the American people or not? Where does their loyalty lie?” said Clark. “The private sector can in essence co-opt the public sector.”
“These White House officials are experienced government leaders whose prior private sector experience is part of a broad and diverse skill set they bring to government service,” said a White House spokesperson in a statement. WestExec did not reply to a detailed list of questions for this story.
The firm describes one of its chief selling points as its “unparalleled geopolitical risk analysis,” now confirmed by the saturation of its employees in positions of power. WestExec has also succeeded in getting tech startups into defense contracts and helped defense corporations modernize with tech; it worked to help multinational companies break into China. One of its collaborators is the defense-centered investment group Pine Island Capital Partners, which launched a SPAC, or “blank check” company,” last year. Tony Blinken advised Pine Island and was a part owner. (Michèle Flournoy, another WestExec co-founder, had her nomination to be secretary of defense nixed. President Joe Biden instead nominated Lloyd Austin, himself a former Pine Island partner but not a WestExec consultant.)
What makes WestExec “boutique” is the promise that its executives would have face time with its seasoned policymakers. “We felt other firms brought people in for big names and never got to see the big names,” said one WestExec co-founder in 2020. “Tony is on client calls.” Read the rest of the article here.