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Textile Lobbyists Hit Obama Ruling On Advisory Committees

James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

US textile industry representatives in Washington are upset over President Barack Obama's executive order barring lobbyists from serving on government advisory groups. The White House issued the ban on September 24, saying it is part of the president's efforts to reduce the influence of special interest groups in Washington.

Cass Johnson, president of the National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO), said the action will undercut the textile industry's ability to inform government negotiators about industry positions during critical stages of trade negotiations. He charges that the order will hurt small and medium-sized manufacturers and boost the influence of Fortune 500 companies.

"Because of the White House order, domestic manufacturing groups will now have to choose between representing themselves before Congress or the Administration, but not both," he said. "Our representation on the critical Textile and Apparel Trade Advisory Committee (ITAC 13) will be sharply curtailed." All three of NCTO's Washington staffers are registered lobbyists, and while NCTO has had representatives on the Industry Trade Advisory Committee (ITAC) on Textiles and Clothing for many years in the past, none of them would be eligible to participate in meetings under the new rule. However, other staffers or industry representatives could be appointed, but it is felt they would not be as effective as Washington representatives who deal with trade issues all the time and are available to the government on call, particularly when negotiations often involve prolonged stays overseas.

Over the years, US textile manufacturers have felt that their participation in the textile and apparel ITAC has played a major rule in influencing the outcome of textile trade agreements. The textile and apparel ITAC consists of 32 members, with roughly 70 percent representing apparel importers; 10 percent, textile manufacturers; and the remainder from other interested parties. The ITAC meets with government officials quarterly and during negotiations of specific agreements. The industry advisors are provided information about US government positions on a secure website, and they are invited to comment and evaluate the impact of those positions on US manufacturers. They also receive private in-person briefings by government officials during negotiations.

Norm Eisen, special counsel to the president for ethics and government reform, said:  "It is our aspiration that that federally registered lobbyists not be appointed to agency advisory boards and commissions. Keeping these advisory boards free of individuals who currently are registered lobbyists represents a dramatic change in the business is done in Washington."

Eisen said President Obama recognizes that some lobbyists advocate public interest goals shared by the administration, but "the President made a commitment to the American people to reduce the influence of lobbyists in Washington out of a belief that lobbyists have too often in the past achieved disproportionate impact on government decision makers at the expense of broader voices from the public at large."

NCTO's Johnson dismissed the order as "pure political theater," and he charges that well-heeled companies will find a way around it because they have the resources to have both lobbyists and other experts to deal with trade issues. Among other things, Johnson believes, the order will increase the influence of apparel importers at the expense of textile manufacturers.

Pointing out that the order was issued without an opportunity for industry input, Johnson urged the president to reconsider the consequences of his action.

September 29, 2009

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