President Trump recently issued an Executive Order to slash federal advisory committees—which could mean more opportunities to hide his administration’s policymaking from public view. When operated lawfully, these advisory committees provide federal agencies with important, balanced and transparent advice from experts outside the government. Trump’s order, however, comes on the heels of his administration’s pattern of unlawfully outsourcing policymaking authority both by using advisory committees illegally stacked with industry insiders and relying on de facto committees operated off the books—including a group of Mar-a-Lago cronies unlawfully influencing veterans policy outside the public eye.
The Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) requires advisory committees to maintain a balanced membership, protect against inappropriate influence from special interests, and operate transparently. The Trump administration has repeatedly flouted FACA by filling committees with industry executives and cronies of President Trump and his advisors, positioning them to advise on federal policies from which they stand to benefit.
By eliminating lawful advisory committees, the new Executive Order excludes the credible voices of technical experts while continuing to quietly invite behind the scenes advice from those who have business before the government, but no business advising the government. It will serve only to further shield the administration from the transparency and accountability required by FACA.
How is the administration already violating FACA? Here are just a few examples:
The Mar-a-Lago Crowd
In August 2018, following reports that a trio of Mar-a-Lago cronies were influencing veterans policy behind the scenes, we sued the Department of Veterans Affairs on behalf of VoteVets. The “Mar-a-Lago Crowd” is an unlawful advisory committee that harms America’s veterans and raises concerns about self-dealing. We’re still fighting to shut down this unlawful de facto advisory committee.
Outsourcing Extraction Policy to the Fossil Fuel Industry
Also in August 2018, we and the Western Organization of Resource Councils sued the Department of Interior for violating FACA by secretly allowing fossil fuel interests to drive federal mineral policy on public and private lands through the Royalty Policy Committee—all while denying communities affected by these recommendations a voice on the committee.
In April 2019, after we defeated the administration’s attempt to dismiss our lawsuit, DOI disbanded the Royalty Policy Committee. To ensure that the Trump administration does not escape accountability by shuttering the Committee after it finished its work but before the Court could rule, we are continuing to litigate, asking the Court to stop the administration from relying on recommendations made by the RPC, and to force DOI to release records.
A Trophy Hunting Council
We sued the Trump administration for illegally establishing an advisory committee designed to promote the hunting of endangered species and packing it with trophy hunters, firearm executives and representatives of businesses with close ties to the Trump administration. We filed this suit in August 2018 on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International.
Learn more about these lawsuits
- Advisory Committees
VoteVets v. Department of Veterans Affairs
Challenging the operation of the Trump Administration’s illegal ‘Mar-a-Lago Council’ which is influencing policy and shaping decisions that affect millions of America's veterans, on behalf of VoteVets.
Learn more about this lawsuit
- Advisory Committees
- Energy and Environment
Western Organization of Resource Councils v. Zinke
Challenging the Trump Administration’s program to sell-off public resources at the expense of western communities and taxpayers.