Senators Introduce Bill Restricting Retired Military From Working for Foreign Powers

Senators Introduce Bill Restricting Retired Military From Working for Foreign Powers
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, on June 8, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Getty Images)

Two top senators introduced a new legislation on June 20 that, if made into law, would require public reporting on retired U.S. service members working as consultants and contractors for foreign governments and creating civil penalties if they break the law.

The bipartisan Retired Officers Conflict of Interest Act, co-sponsored by senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), would amend current law to impose more stringent review guidelines for the State Department and military service.

The new constraints include a prohibition on service members negotiating a post-retirement job with foreign governments while still on active duty; public reporting of the name, job duties, and salaries of a person approved to work for a foreign government; a 30-month gap after retirement before military intelligence personnel can work for another country other than close allies; and higher financial penalties for those who violate the law.

Under federal law, retired troops require approval from their branch of the armed forces and the State Department before they can work for foreign governments. Any service member who fails to secure such approval risks losing retirement pay.

“The Department of Defense is letting too many retired military officers trade their military service and experience to foreign governments for cash, creating serious risks to our national security,” said Warren, who chairs the Senate Armed Services personnel subcommittee, in a statement. “This system needs serious transparency and accountability—and my bipartisan bill will do just that by requiring public reporting on service members working for foreign governments and putting real penalties in place if they break the law.”

The lawmakers acted in response to a Washington Post report last year that found more than 500 retired U.S. military personnel, including generals and admirals, had taken lucrative jobs with foreign governments since 2015. The Post found that approval is almost automatic, with about 95 percent of applications being granted authorization. The Post had to sue the Army, the Air Force, the Navy, the Marine Corps and the State Department in federal court to obtain more than 4,000 pages of documents that shed light on the matter.

“It’s no surprise that foreign governments would wish to capitalize on the knowledge and expertise of retired U.S. military members, but it’s critical to our national security that we be judicious in how we allow other countries to leverage their skills and experience. Unfortunately we’ve seen that the current safeguards aren’t sufficient. This bipartisan proposal seeks to improve compliance through additional transparency and new penalties,” said Grassley, the senior Republican on the Senate Budget Committee.

Previously, Warren and Grassley requested in November 2022 that the Department 0f Defense (DoD) provide a list of retired officials who had requested permission to work for foreign countries. When the agency returned with a heavily redacted response, they responded in an April letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin that such information should be public.

“Congress and the public have a right to know which former DoD personnel have applied for approval to work, or who are currently working, for foreign governments, regardless of their rank,” Warren and Grassley told Austin at the time.

Separately, the U.S. Department of Commerce recently added dozens of China-based and other firms to its Entity list (pdf), citing concerns regarding national security and foreign policy risks. They were sanctioned for “providing training to Chinese military pilots using Western and NATO sources,” the department stated. The agency deemed these activities as contrary to U.S. national security and foreign policy interests.
Hannah Ng contributed to this report.