11TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT
Connolly's Job With Contractor Complicates Race
Friday, May 16, 2008
In his bid for Congress from Northern Virginia's 11th District, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly recently mailed a campaign flier demonstrating his opposition to U.S. involvement in Iraq. Among other things, the piece accuses the "Bush-Cheney Defense Department" of secretly awarding billions in no-bid contracts to war "profiteers."
Depending on who's talking, however, that last description could include Connolly's employer: Science Applications International Corp., a defense and intelligence contractor that has come under scrutiny for alleged mismanagement of several Iraq-related projects.
Connolly (D) had nothing to do with SAIC's more controversial contracts. He has worked at SAIC only since 2002 and leads the company's involvement in community activities and charitable events. But the fervency with which he has shared his antiwar credentials while working for one of the region's largest and most successful government contractors illustrates the challenge of navigating the politics of war in Fairfax, where the majority of voters opposes U.S. involvement in Iraq but where the economy has thrived on it.
"There are more government contractors than federal employees in the 11th District," said Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), who is retiring from that seat. He has been criticized for voting with President Bush on Iraq war matters but praised for helping to stimulate the region's booming contracting industry. "I voted against the surge, but it's low-hanging fruit to go after a contractor in a war zone. Some of these contractors are heroes. We have more contractors in Iraq than soldiers," he said.
All four Democrats seeking the party's nomination in the district's June 10 primary oppose the war in Iraq. Connolly and his best-known opponent, former representative Leslie L. Byrne, have competed ferociously in recent weeks with news media statements and mail pieces, seeking to outdo each other's antiwar credentials. Both campaigns have conducted polls showing overwhelming opposition to the war among likely Democratic primary voters.
Fellow Democratic contenders Douglas J. Denneny, a former Navy pilot, and Lori P. Alexander, a physical therapist, have made similar pronouncements.
Byrne said Connolly's proclamations are hypocritical, given his employer. She cited SAIC's widely reported role in trying to document the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, an endeavor that Bush used to help justify his decision to go to war. She also noted SAIC's involvement in several no-bid contracts in Iraq that have come under investigation -- the kind that Connolly wants to end.
"Everybody has to make a decision about what kinds of companies they're going to invest in, what kind of companies they're going to have stock in," Byrne said. "The hypocrisy, I think, is the thing that is the most troublesome."
SAIC is a large government consulting firm based in San Diego with contracts involving the National Cancer Institute, NASA and many other agencies not related to defense. Connolly acknowledged that most of SAIC's contracts are within the defense and intelligence realms. And he said his support for the War Profiteering Prevention Act of 2007 could affect SAIC.
"I'm not trying to make the world easier for my employer," he said. "I'm trying to lay out a principled position irrespective of what my employer might do. I don't support war profiteering, and I don't support large noncompetitive contracts. I don't think they're healthy. I don't think they help the system. If that happens to hurt my employers, so be it."
Connolly said he is running for Congress because of his "moral outrage" over the war. A 10-year veteran of the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Connolly said U.S. failures in Iraq were "entirely predictable" because there was never a plan for what would replace Saddam Hussein's rule.
"This is personal for me," he said, noting that a nephew served two tours in Iraq and that the son of a close friend, former Board of Supervisors chairman Katherine K. Hanley, lost an arm on patrol in Iraq two months ago when a roadside bomb exploded.
SAIC is not as well known as such federal contractors as Halliburton or Booz Allen Hamilton -- and is much smaller than the enormous defense systems builders Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman. With $159 million in known contracts, it was ranked 27th on the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity's Windfalls of War list of postwar contractors doing business in Iraq between 2002 and 2004.
But the company is viewed as politically influential in Washington, ranked fourth in the industry in campaign contributions from 1990 to 2002, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
It also has come under scrutiny over allegations that it mismanaged several projects, including a $15 million no-bid contract awarded in 2003 to build an Iraq media network that grew to $82 million and that Defense Department investigators have criticized.
SAIC spokeswoman Melissa Koskovich, when asked to respond to Connolly's critique of no-bid contracts, said in a statement: "Gerry Connolly works as part of SAIC's community relations team. In this role, he is not involved in SAIC's work for government or commercial clients."
Others said that opposing the war does not have to go hand in hand with opposing defense spending or contracting.
"Defense contracting and the war are two different issues," Davis said. "Most companies don't make bombs and missiles. We need contractors for plan analysis. Software analysis. Defending the government's right to outsource that does not have anything to do with the war."
Still, Davis, who has represented the 11th District for 14 years, has intensely felt the tug in recent years between the district's increasing antiwar sentiment and his support for Bush and the contracting community.
In August, when contemplating a run for the U.S. Senate, Davis attended a meeting of the antiwar Americans Against Escalation in Iraq at the Accotink Unitarian Universalist Church in Burke.
Trying to reach out to a mostly hostile crowd, Davis said "there aren't any easy answers" and "we need to have more dialogues like this around the country that are civil."
If Davis was trying to inoculate himself against his record of voting with Bush on almost every Iraq-related measure, Connolly said he is not seeking similar immunity from his relationship with SAIC.
"I'm in the middle of a campaign trying to have a conversation with voters," Connolly said. "I oppose the war. I have thought it was folly from the word go. Everyone who knows me knows that's true."