On July 19, President Donald Trump signed an executive order establishing the Presidential Advisory Council on Infrastructure. The group, headed by high-profile real estate developers Richard LeFrak and Steven Roth, is tasked with developing recommendations to overhaul the country’s aging roads, rails and ports. There is just one problem: The council may have been advising the president for months before he signed the order.
Why does this technicality matter? Well, according to a lawsuit by Food and Water Watch, a nonprofit focusing on government accountability relating to food and water resources, this could place the council in violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act. The act requires public notice of an advisory panel’s members and meetings — information that the Trump administration has not yet released. Of course, there may not be much to disclose. But it’s not hard to imagine why the appointment of two major developers to an advisory council on infrastructure might raise concerns about conflicts of interest. More transparency about the council’s activities could clear up a lot of doubt.
This is not the first time the Trump administration, with its many advisory groups, has clashed with government-transparency advocates. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a similar lawsuit against the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity last month, arguing that the White House was slow to release its meeting schedule and records. Ethics watchdogs have complained that Trump’s CEO advisory council, Superfund task force and committee convened to select Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch may have violated disclosure requirements — or deliberately structured them to avoid being subjected to the law — as well. Most recently, a New York Times investigation revealed that the Trump administration has been “opaque” about the members of its deregulation task forces.
The Trump administration could chart a better course by releasing more information to the public.