Posted: 7-28-2017

by Adolfo Pesquera

Wasington D.C. – President Donald Trump and the federal departments of transportation and commerce have been sued by a grassroots organization seeking to force compliance with federal laws intended to ensure transparency and public participation in the Presidential Advisory Council on Infrastructure.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia alleges Trump formed an advisory committee in January that for the past six months has been soliciting and reviewing proposals and formulating policy that would affect $1 trillion of infrastructure spending. The aforementioned departments are collaborating with the Council on Infrastructure.

Food & Water Watch (FWW), a spin-off nonprofit organization of Public Citizen, alleges in its lawsuit that these meetings are official meetings in violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), a sunshine law that imposes requirements on the composition and reporting of federal committees.

“The present Administration has adopted a pattern and practice of establishing advisory committees, largely populated by President Trump’s business associates and friends, to advise him and agency secretaries on economic and business-related matters,” the complaint states.

“This practice, in effect outsourcing policymaking to private individuals who are unfettered by conflict-of-interest rules and other public accountability standards, raises a host of ethical and transparency concerns.”

FWW_Dallas_Commerce_TrinityRiver_856184782.jpg

A refurbished 1930s era bridge, part of Commerce Street, spans the Trinity River in Dallas. Further into the horizon is an aging railroad bridge and a modern bridge with suspension cables.

The council has met on numerous occasions, but does not publish notice of meetings in the Federal Register. Records and transcripts of meetings are not made available to the public, a violation of open records law. Detailed minutes of the meetings are not kept.

While the Infrastructure Council has operated since the beginning of the Administration, Trump did not formally announce the establishment of a Presidential Advisory Council on Infrastructure until the issuance of a July 19 Executive Order. However, the order does not direct the council to comply with the FACA.

The FACA also requires that the composition of an advisory committee include diverse viewpoints. FWW is attempting to get a seat at the table for itself or for a like-minded organization.

FWW notes that Trump’s council is headed by Richard LeFrak and Steven Roth, both long-time friends of Trump. LeFrak is a billionaire New York real estate developer and Roth is chief executive officer of Vornado Realty Trust—one of New York’s largest landlords.

“Both have significant business interests that stand to benefit from decisions and recommendations made by the Infrastructure Council,” the plaintiff alleges.

Trump’s infrastructure plan is to get Congress to provide $200 billion in order to leverage an additional $800 billion from the private sector over the next 10 years. This will require extensive use of public-private partnerships and FWW notes that private investors and asset managers are raising billions of dollars to finance potential transactions.

“As of May 11, 2017, the White House had received more than 500 project requests from governors, consultants, contractors, unions, and advisors,” FWW states.

FWW’s mission is to champion healthy food and clean water for all. FWW advocates against water privatization and is a proponent of water affordability. FWW is opposed by a corporate media group that is funded by the National Association of Water Companies.

Javier Guzman, legal director at Democracy Forward. Courtesy: Democracy Forward.

Javier Guzman, legal director at Democracy Forward. Courtesy: Democracy Forward.

The complaint was drafted and filed by Javier M. Guzman, a former deputy associate attorney general with the U.S. Department of Justice. Guzman prepared the complaint in his capacity as an attorney with Democracy Forward, a Washington-based nonprofit legal aid organization.

FWW has asked for five specific claims for relief based on the FACA and the Administrative Procedure Act.

Declaratory Judgment:

  1. Find that the Council on Infrastructure, as announced in the July 19 Executive Order is an advisory committee subject to the FACA.

Mandamus Relief:

  1. Declare all actions taken by President Trump and the Infrastructure Council before filing a charter null and void.
  2. Compel Trump and the Infrastructure Council to comply with their non-discretionary duties.

Declaratory and Injunctive Relief:

  1. Declare all actions taken by Defendants Departments of Transportation and Commerce and the Infrastructure Council before filing a charter null and void.
  2. Enjoin defendants DOT and Commerce from acting in a way that violates the APA.

adolfo@virtualbx.com