(The Center Square) – More than half of the government appointees to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services leave for industry jobs, according to a new study.

And almost one-third of government appointees to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services leave to take jobs in private industry, according to a study by the University of Southern California Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics and Harvard University.

The study, published in Health Affairs, was the first to quantify the movement between healthcare industries and the government agencies that regulate them, according to the authors.

“Although there are understandable reasons for people to move between the public and private sectors, the study notes that such a revolving door could make government agencies more vulnerable to pro-industry bias,” according to the study.

“Laws passed by Congress get a lot of attention, but a lot of the real action actually happens at the regulatory level,” said study co-author Genevieve Kanter, senior fellow at the USC Schaeffer Center and associate professor at the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy. “Regulatory agencies can decide the fortunes of many companies.”

The authors examined the career histories of 766 people appointed to HHS between 2004 and 2020. The study focused on HHS employees occupying political appointments, which include the agency heads, senior-level administrators and their aides.

Researchers found:

15% had been employed in private industry immediately before their appointment.
Nearly a third (32%) of appointees left their government jobs for industry.
Compared with other sectors (e.g.: government, nonprofit, and academia), industry accounted for the greatest share of exits.
The offices with the highest shares of appointees leaving for industry jobs were the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (54%) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (53%).

Some of the findings were not surprising.

“Compared to government jobs, employees can earn higher salaries in biopharmaceutical and information technology industries,” according to the report. “Government regulators who previously worked in industries they’re regulating may have useful insights, as well.”

But job migration patterns need more study.

“What I am really concerned about is whether the personnel flow might lead to biases in government decision making,” Kanter said.

Kanter plans to study that question next.

Some federal laws were designed to limit the use of the revolving door. One such law prohibits former federal employees from immediately lobbying on behalf of private organizations. But such laws typically last one to two years and are narrow in scope, Kanter said.

“They do not broadly cover a lot of lobbying related to agency decision making – like regulations and drug authorizations – so they don’t necessarily deter that behavior,” she said. “The direction one might go is to expand the cooling off laws. But that’s a blunt instrument for a lot of subtle things that might be going on in terms of the effects of the revolving door.”

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