Interior Dept. official Joe Balash met with Oil Search multiple times when he was a government employee. Now he'll work for them as they drill in Alaska.
Joe Balash, who served as the assistant secretary for Land and Minerals Management in the Trump Interior Department for two years, oversaw oil and gas drilling on federal lands as part of his position.
Balash left Interior on Friday to join a foreign oil company that is moving into drilling in the North Slope region of Alaska.
Balash "confirmed in a phone interview Tuesday night that he will begin working for the Papua New Guinea-based Oil Search, which is developing one of Alaska's largest oil prospects in years," the Washington Post reported on Wednesday.
"Alaska provides us with world class oil assets with significant upside," Oil Search's website notes. "We are building an independent, highly experienced management team to develop and operate our Alaskan assets."
Balash told the Post he would purportedly abide by a Trump administration ethics pledge barring him from lobbying his former agency, but he said he would "supervise those who do" lobby the government. The distinction between the two roles is unclear.
Like Trump, officials associated with his administration have repeatedly been caught in unethical relationships with the businesses and industry they were tasked with regulating.
When he was on the federal payroll, Balash held multiple meetings with the company that would turn out to be his future employer.
Balash's calendar shows that he met with Oil Search in January of 2018 in a video call with the company's executives. The call, described in his notes as a "meet and greet," included the president of the company's Alaska business unit, Keiran Wulff.
The notes said, "Oil Search is slated to be a large player in Alaska Oil development." Now, Balash will be a part of that effort and apparently profit from it.
Balash also had a video call with Wulff in April of 2018 and was involved in an event labeled "Oil Search Presentation/Update" seven months after that call.
In June of 2019, Balash and Wulff were featured speakers at a luncheon of the Resource Development Council in Anchorage, Alaska.
Federal law prohibits officials like Balash from using their government positions to enrich themselves in private industry.
"At the point Balash began discussing employment opportunities with Oil Search, he was prohibited from personally and substantially participating in any particular matter that would affect Oil Search's financial interests," Brendan Fischer of Campaign Legal Center told the Post.
It is unclear if or when Balash began angling for his new job, and if he did so during his repeated taxpayer-financed contacts with Oil Search.
Agency heads under Trump have often come directly from the industry they are tasked with regulating, or they've had such close relationships with those industries that the power to direct policy has been handed over to business.
Balash's new job, coming after repeated contacts with his new employer while he was serving, represents another instance of the revolving door between the government and business — the so-called "swamp."