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War For Profit? Landmark Report Reveals Revolving Door of Defense Industry

“This breeds a culture where government officials are subservient to contractors and people who question costs or performance are told to stop rocking the boat lest they be retaliated against professionally.”

A new report revealed at least 645 instances in 2016 alone where former high-ranking Department of Defense officials entered the defense industry within two years of leaving the Department. These officials became lobbyists, board members, executives or consultants for defense contractors – giving the impression their influence in the Pentagon is winning contracts for their new employers.

While these former officials bring with them practical knowledge and experience into the defense industry, the report released by The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) decried the presence of an elaborate revolving door which increased chances of unethical dealings. The report argued:

“We should be able to have confidence that government officials are making informed decisions based on what’s best for national security, for men and women in uniform, and for the American people. Instead, the system is skewed by undue influence, rewarding those public officials who favor a future employer or industry with contracts or lucrative jobs. The public is rightfully concerned about the concentration of wealth and self-dealing in the Capitol, with five of the ten richest counties in the United States located within an hour of Washington, DC. Some of that wealth is connected to increased spending on contracting, with the Washington region receiving 17 percent of all federal procurement spending in fiscal year 2016.

Though 645 instances were discovered in 2016, the report says that the number could be higher, as it only relied on publicly available sources which largely rely on self-reporting of the defense companies. It also noted that the number of instances was higher than the number of officials, as some of them worked for more than one company.

A 2006 Government Accountability Office survey of contractors and Internal Revenue Service data—the most recent government review available—found that 52 contractors employed 2,435 former Department of Defense senior and acquisition officials who had “previously served as generals, admirals, senior executives, program managers, contracting officers, or in other acquisition positions which made them subject to restrictions on their post-DOD employment.”

The Pentagon with the Washington Monument and National Mall in the background.

The Pentagon with the Washington Monument and National Mall in the background. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Perry Aston)

Major Findings of the Report

  • 20 top defense contractors in fiscal year 2016 hired “former senior government officials, military officers, Members of Congress and senior legislative staff as lobbyists, board members or senior executives in 2016” at least 645 times.
  • Of the instances, about 90 percent of them became registered lobbyists whose main objective was influence peddling.
  • At least 380 former high-ranking Department of Defense (DOD) officials and military officers shifted into the defense industry to work for the defense contractors.
  • Of the officials tracked by POGO, a quarter of them (95) went to work for the DOD’s top 5 contractors, namely Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman.
  • The military officers passing through the revolving door included 25 Generals, 9 Admirals, 43 Lieutenant Generals and 23 Vice Admirals.

Retired Maj. Gen. Mike Boera, former U.S. Air Force director of programs in the office of the deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and programs was one of the persons tracked by POGO. According to the report, Boera joined Raytheon in 2015 as an executive officer for its intelligence, information and services division. That year, Raytheon received $2.9 billion worth of contracts from the Air Force, and while it cannot be said that Raytheon won the contracts because of Boera, critics argue that the inability to prove that as a fact is a problem.

Last June, Boera also joined Leidos as the vice president of Air Force strategic accounts which announced that he is “responsible for strengthening and advancing trusted relationships with the US Air Force with the objective of increased revenue and growth in Air Force business.”

According to Mandy Smithberger, a director of POGO and author of the report, the problem being created here is that “the revolving door corrodes and breeds cynicism around the decisions made at the Pentagon.”

“Over our history, we’ve repeatedly heard from whistleblowers and members of the military who complain this breeds a culture where government officials are subservient to contractors and people who question costs or performance are told to stop rocking the boat lest they be retaliated against professionally,” she says.

While there are many non-conflicting post-retirement positions for former DOD employees, the report revealed that many have been taking the revolving door which makes up “just up just one of the several forms of undue influence on the operations of the Department of Defense.”

To avoid this, Smithberger recommends that former government officials seeking to join the industry should “start with a blanket two-year cooling off period and also simplifying the laws to really reflect how to best protect the public interest.”

Alex Muiruri

Alex is a passionate writer born and raised in Kenya. He is professionally trained as a public health officer but loves writing more. When not writing, he enjoys reading, doing charity work and spending time with friends and family. He is also a crazy pianist!


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