October 24, 2013
The Pentagon’s revolving door is still spinning, according to information from a Department of Defense (DoD) database released to CREW in the wake of a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The database includes information about ethics opinions sought by senior defense officials between January 2012 and May 2013, including the names of the companies and organizations where they are considering taking jobs.
An overwhelming majority of the employees seeking opinions—84 percent—had at least one specific company or organization in mind, and defense companies dominated the list of prospective employers.
Last year, CREW released Strategic Maneuvers, a report revealing the extent to which retired high-ranking generals and admirals cash in on their years of military experience by taking lucrative jobs with the defense industry. CREW found that at least nine of the top-level generals and admirals who retired between 2009 and 2011 took positions with the five largest defense companies contracting with the government: Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman.
In the new data released to CREW, 13 people listed Lockheed Martin as a possible employer, seven listed Boeing, eight listed General Dynamics, 10 listed Raytheon, and 13 listed Northrop Grumman. Defense contractors SAIC, Booz Allen Hamilton, and BAE were also listed by multiple people.
Many of those who didn’t name a company still suggested they would be joining the defense industry, indicating plans to work for a to-be-determined defense contractor or to start up their own consulting business. Among those who did list a company, some suggested they already had specific opportunities that prompted their decision to seek an ethics opinion. For instance, one entry listed “Vice President, DynCorp International” while another listed “President of Skyway Acquisition Solutions.” One person preparing to leave the Air Force suggested he or she expected to soon be managing Air Force acquisition and program management for consulting company Whitney, Bradley & Brown.
The database is the result of a 2008 decision by Congress to require senior defense officials and senior acquisition officials who meet certain criteria to seek guidance from ethics officials before accepting compensation from a defense contractor. Congress also required the department to keep those opinions in a centralized database. In April 2012, CREW submitted a FOIA request for the database, but DoD declined to release it, prompting CREW to file a lawsuit. As a result of the lawsuit, DoD released heavily redacted copies of opinion letters given to military officials and, nearly a year later, information from the database with names, ranks, and other potentially identifying information omitted.
The database released to CREW is just a snapshot of the Pentagon’s revolving door, but it suggests private contractors continue to see senior DoD officials as particularly valuable during this time of tight budgets and defense reductions. People have to be allowed to make a living and use their expertise, but the public needs to know former defense officials aren’t using insider knowledge to benefit private contractors who charge American taxpayers billions of dollars.
It’s difficult to track people moving through the revolving door. DoD should routinely release the information, instead of fighting in court to keep it secret.