A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that 14 major military contractors have hired 1,718 former senior Pentagon officials over a five-year span. A group of good-governance advocates are pushing reforms seeking to prevent potential conflicts of interest posed by this activity.
The Sept. 9 GAO report found that of 1,497,882 people who left the Department of Defense (DOD) between 2014 and 2019, 37,032 of them went to work for one of the 14 major contractors reviewed. Of those, 1,718 were senior officials, according to the report.
The GAO said the Pentagon and the private sector both benefit from this interplay.
But there is also a potential conflict of interest, with current Pentagon workers being tempted to favor military contractors in anticipation of future employment opportunities, the GAO said, adding that DOD personnel who work for a defense contractor might also be perceived as using their contacts with former Pentagon colleagues for the benefit of the contractor.
The GAO noted that the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) included new restrictions on lobbying, such as restricting certain military officers from “lobbying activities” for one year following their retirement.
However, “DOD officials told us that, because the provision was included in a National Defense Authorization Act section that is not acquisition specific, it was not initially identified for review for potential incorporation into the [DOD regulations],” the report said.
The GAO recommended that the DOD “assess whether to incorporate recent lobbying prohibitions into its acquisition regulations,” adding that the “DOD concurred with the recommendation.”
Following the report, lawmakers introduced amendments to this year’s NDAA that would make the GAO’s recommendations mandatory. The amendment from Reps. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Katie Porter (D-Calif,), and Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) would “require the Department of Defense to codify current post-government employment restrictions in its acquisition law.”
Reps. Speier and John Sarbanes (D-Md.) would also extend the abovementioned post-retirement restriction from one year to two. Further, Schakowsky and Phillips introduced an amendment to require contractors to report their hiring of former senior Pentagon officials and officers.
With the House Rules Committee set to consider the NDAA on Sept. 20, a group of good-governance groups wrote the lawmakers on Sept. 17, urging them to vote yes on the amendments.
“Without stronger post-government employment restrictions, there is a substantial risk that senior Pentagon officials’ private interests will be placed ahead of our national interests,” said the letter, signed by 27 groups, including the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) and the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.
“Influence peddling by former senior officials on behalf of contractors risks diminishing military effectiveness, undermines competition and performance, and leads to higher costs for the military and taxpayers,” the groups said.
In a separate post, the Quincy Institute cited a study it helped conduct earlier this year, when it found that two-thirds of the Afghanistan Study Group—a blue-ribbon task force established by Congress that recommended President Joe Biden extend the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan—have current or recent financial ties to the weapons industry.
According to Quincy, the Afghanistan Study Group didn’t disclose these ties when conducting their work.
“The amendments listed above would take significant steps toward restoring Americans’ faith in their government and ensuring that the military and its civilian leadership are above reproach in their service to our nation,” the groups said in their letter. “Current restrictions have done little to slow the revolving door, and it’s clear that systemic legislative change is needed.”
The Rules Committee was still considering the NDAA at the time of this article’s publication.