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D.C.'s Revolving Doors

WASHINGTON'S revolving door - the portal between government service and private lobbies - took another turn this week. Two White House aides are leaving to head groups that lobby heavily in the capital on at least two key issues on Washington's agenda: telecommunications and health care.

Neither Roy Neel, President Clinton's deputy chief of staff, nor Howard Paster, who headed Mr. Clinton's congressional liaison office, are violating existing rules. But their departure for salaries of at least $500,000 a year is the latest example of a practice that has markedly increased public distrust in officials and alienated them from government.

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Mr. Neel, a long-time aide to Vice President Al Gore Jr. and a specialist on telecommunications policy, is leaving to head the United States Telephone Association, which lobbies for phone companies. Mr. Paster, who came to the administration from Hill and Knowlton Worldwide, is returning to take over as the firm's president and chief executive officer.

The issue is not, as offered by White House spokeswoman Dee Dee Myers, one of whether government employees should never have another job. As Mr. Clinton himself noted at a lunch with Washington bureau chiefs this week, the Founding Fathers expected government officials to return to productive private life after government service. At issue, however, is the nature of the job they take and whether that job reinforces a system that increasingly cuts voters out of the political discussion and policymaking process. Even though they will not themselves lobby, the two men will direct lobbyists. Given their connections and contacts, the difference is largely one of semantics.

The president has made some useful strides in slowing the revolving door. He has adopted rules that lengthen the time restrictions on former White House aides who later lobby at the White House. He also has worked to curb the tax deduction for lobbying activities.

It is natural for former government employees to try to market their skills and contacts as they look for work in the private sector, just as government should make use of people who have developed skills in the ``real world.'' But increasingly the same sets of people are moving through the same revolving doors. This leads neither to the fresh ideas government needs nor the responsive government that increasing numbers of voters want.

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