The Pentagon has failed to maintain a complete database of generals and other high-ranking officials who consider joining defense contracting firms after leaving the military, according to a report released last week.
The database was required under a 2008 law passed by Congress because of concerns about a “revolving door” between the Defense Department and private industry, as well as potential conflicts of interest created when top brass seek jobs with companies that do work for the government.
Despite that mandate, the Pentagon’s database remains “of marginal value,” according to the report released by the Defense Department’s Office of Inspector General, which concludes that the Pentagon “may not have fully complied with the intent of this law.”
The report marks the second time that the IG has raised questions about compliance. In 2010, the IG noted that the Pentagon had “initiated but not completed” the database.
Government employees frequently go on to work for private industry — and vice versa — in Washington, where the consulting shops and K Street lobbying firms are full of former members of Congress and White House staffers. Meanwhile, hundreds of former generals and other top defense officials have used their experience and expertise to land lucrative jobs with defense contractors.
In 2008, the Government Accountability Office found that 52 of the biggest defense contractors employed 2,435 former generals, senior executives and acquisition officers. Of those, 422 were in a position to work on defense contracts directly related to their former agencies and at least nine may have been working on the same contracts they previously oversaw.
Top Pentagon officials involved in procurements that exceed $10 million are required to seek an ethics opinion from government attorneys before going to work for a defense contractor. Under the 2008 law, the Pentagon is supposed to keep those opinions for five years in a central database.
Investigators found that some agencies were not uploading requests for ethics advice to the database. And a review of what was in the system revealed all sorts of problems, such as “unsigned, undated and potentially draft documents,” “opinions without corresponding requests,” and “various other record-
keeping inconsistencies suggesting a lack of active supervision or quality control.”
In a statement, U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who requested the IG report, said she was “disturbed the Pentagon is willfully violating the law and thumbing its nose to Congressional intent to protect the integrity of our defense procurement system. . . . The Pentagon has not performed its most basic duty to show they are preventing conflicts of interest and self-dealing in the military industrial complex.”
The IG’s report said Pentagon officials responded by arguing that the database “was an unfunded mandate during a time of critically constrained resources.”
Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, a Defense Department spokesman, said, “The department has already undertaken measures to remedy the identified reporting irregularities.”
The department’s ethics program “has the concerted attention of the department’s leadership, and it is operating effectively to ensure that the taxpayers’ interests are carefully protected,” Breasseale said.
In 2012, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a government watchdog group, sued the Defense Department for records from the database after its request under the Freedom of Information Act was denied. Names, ranks and other identifying details were redacted, but records obtained through the lawsuit showed that 379 defense officials requested ethics opinions about private-sector jobs from January 2012 to May 2013.
Top contractors such as Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics were among the companies listed as potential employers.
“People have to be allowed to make a living and use their expertise,” CREW said in a blog post at the time. “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.”
For its latest report, the IG examined the 379 requests and found that most came from the Army and the Navy. A significant number also came from the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
Only four inquiries, however, came from the Defense Logistics Agency, which the IG said “processes more than 9,000 contracts every day” — raising questions among auditors. In response, the agency said it would “immediately begin” entering requests into the database.
Meanwhile, the IG found that none of the inquiries came from the National Security Agency. The NSA’s response: Although the data are maintained internally, agency officials see no legal requirement to disclose them.