There are a group of commentators who rail against the alleged ‘revolving door’ of federal officials who leave government work and continue their professions in the private sector. Yet, their focus is not on the revolving part of the door, only on the one-way portion where a government employee leaves. But a revolving door means that entry and egress actually go in both directions where such movement from the private sector to the government can create a real conflict of interest.
One such example involves the U.K. entity HS2, which is the taxpayer-owned company building Britain’s new high-speed rail line. Reports indicate the agency revoked a key contract amid allegations of conflicts of interest involving the U.S. engineering firm CH2M. The U.S. firm announced it relinquished a £170m contract to design the second phase of extending the London-Birmingham link onto Manchester and building a branch from the Midlands to Leeds. CH2M’s decision came after the a U.K. engineering firm Mace lost its bid for that contract and had threatened legal action after publicly outing that HS2’s new chief executive, Mark Thurston, was a former CH2M employee.
Mace released a statement that said, “The investigation regarding our concerns about conflict of interest has clearly raised some serious questions about the process. When millions of pounds of British taxpayers’ money is being spent, the public rightly expect decisions to be made following a thorough process and on a level playing field.” Responding, in dueling press releases, CH2M said, it “has demonstrated all appropriate measures taken throughout to ensure the integrity of the procurement process. Notwithstanding these efforts, we have taken the decision to alleviate any further delays to this critical national infrastructure project which could ultimately lead to increasing costs to U.K. taxpayers, as well as to our firm.”
From these statements, it is not clear what the conflict of interest might have been or whether the former CH2M employee threw work to his former employer. But the conflict of interest issue was significant enough for the company to voluntarily relinquish the work. This type of conflict is the front side of the revolving door and one that companies should take care to appropriately address.