The revolving door between the Defense Department and the arms industry is back: a new report offers ways to stop it.
At a time when the Pentagon’s budget is rising to $1 trillion a year and debates about how to respond to the challenges posed by Russia and China are in the spotlight, it is more important than ever to conduct an independent assessment. the best way to go.
Ideally, this would involve objective analysis by impartial experts and policymakers based on a vigorous public conversation about how best to protect the nation. But more often than not, special interests override the national interest in decisions about how much to spend at the Pentagon and how to allocate those funds.
One practice that is indicative of bias in shaping defense policy is the revolving door between the US government and the arms industry. The movement of retired senior officials from the Pentagon and military services into the arms industry is a long-standing practice that raises serious questions about the appearance and reality of conflicts of interest. Mainly because the use of well-connected former military officials would give arms manufacturers enormous and unwarranted influence in the process of determining the size and shape of the Pentagon’s budget.
A 2021 report from the Government Accountability Office found that 1,700 senior government officials took positions in the arms industry over a five-year period, an average of more than 300 per year. And a new report from our organization, the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, found that this practice is particularly pronounced among top generals and admirals. Over the past five years, more than 80% of retired four-star generals and admirals (26 out of 32) continue to work in the arms sector as board members, advisors, lobbyists or consultants.
For example, Boeing recruited former chief of naval operations Admiral John Richardson after his retirement from government service. The admiral joined the company’s board of directors two months after his retirement ceremony. Boeing is the Pentagon’s sixth largest contractor in fiscal 2022, with total contract awards reaching $14.8 billion.
Another notable example of a four-star officer working for a major contractor is retired Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff before retiring in September 2019. Five months ago, Dunford joined Lockheed Martin’s board of directors.
The latest group of four-star retirees are not only looking for work with large contractors, but are also branching out to work for small and medium-sized businesses that focus on cutting-edge technology, such as next-generation which are drones, artificial intelligence (AI). ).and cybersecurity.
For example, the former head of the Africa Command, General Stephen Townsend (US Army, retired), joined a company called Fortem Technologies, dedicated to airspace awareness and drone defense. Gen. Mike Murray, former head of the US Army Futures Command, joined the boards of three defense technology startups: Capewell, Hypori and Vita Inclinata. And both the former Chief of the Bureau of the National Guard Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel and former Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. William K. Lescher began working for artificial intelligence companies after leaving government service.
If past experience is any guide, this new influx of former military officers into the arms sector will distort the Pentagon’s spending priorities and propel the military budget higher than it would have been without them. influence for their corporate employers.
As documented in our new report and previous analyzes from the Project on Government Oversight, there are numerous examples of senior military officials advocating for non-useful weapons while in government and then working for companies that make systems. In addition, former military officials played a key role in preventing the Pentagon from getting rid of weapons it no longer wanted or needed, such as expensive, low-performance and strategically unnecessary littoral combat ships. It is difficult to trace the prevalence of this type of activity because of the limited information available on what retired military officers do once they join the arms industry.
The most comprehensive proposal to address the revolving door problem is the “Department of Defense Ethics and Anti-Corruption Act” by Senator Elizabeth Warren, which includes several measures detailed below.
At a minimum, to limit the undue influence of four-star retirees and potential conflicts of interest resulting from the post-service employment of former military officers, the following steps should be taken:
Ban four-star officials from working at companies that receive $1 billion or more in Pentagon contracts each year.
Extend the “cooling off period” to four years before retired officers can work in the arms industry. This will ensure that important contacts or important information that the officer may have known while serving does not provide a significant advantage.
Increase transparency by accurately reporting the post-government employment of retired military officers, including requiring defense contractors to report their interactions with relevant government officials.
Expanding the definition of lobby. Current lobbying restrictions and laws allow consultants, board members and other corporate officials to act as advocates for the firearms industry without being defined as lobbyists, allowing them to avoid those with relevant restrictions apply otherwise.
Too much is at stake to allow conflicts of interest and special interest politics to shape the Pentagon budget. Now is the time for Congress to act to reduce the influence of the revolving door.