Moneyed Mentors at the PentagonTweet
November 18, 2009
As you can see from today's Morning Smoke, USA Today's Tom Vanden Brook, Ken Dilanian and Ray Locker put out a great story on retired military officers consulting for the Pentagon as mentors to "help run war games and offer advice." The Pentagon wouldn't release a full list of the mentors, but USA Today was able to identify 158 senior members, 80 percent of which had financial ties to defense contractors. The article demonstrates that the revolving door between the Pentagon and the defense industry is alive and well, and in some cases gets stuck so that an individual is in both places at once. It's worthwhile to read the whole thing, but here are three of the big takeaway findings:
- "Mentors operate outside public scrutiny. Although the services have released broad pay rates, most won't say how much individual mentors have been paid, and one, the Missile Defense Agency, declined to release any names. Other services released some names but couldn't say the lists were complete. USA TODAY identified many mentors by scouring military documents and other public records."
- "In some cases, mentors also work for weapons-makers who have an interest in the military planning the mentors are assisting. A Marines exercise last year, which explored how to launch operations from ships, employed mentors who also had financial relationships with companies that sell products designed to aid those operations."
- None of this is illegal, as Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman reiterated to Stars and Stripes reporter Kevin Baron this morning.
POGO has long been concerned with the revolving door between industry and government, particularly in how this practice calls the integrity of government contracting decisions into question. In our 2004 Politics of Contracting report, we found that from January 1997 through May 2004 there were 291 instances involving 224 high-ranking government officials shifting into the private sector to serve as lobbyists, board members, or executives of the top 20 federal government contractors. The Department of Defense (DoD) is now in the process of establishing a revolving door database, but as is true with the mentorship program, it will not be available to the public (USA Today noted that it was unable to obtain information on some of the mentors' salaries because Northrop Grummon, a government contractor that hires the mentors as subcontractors and is not subject to the Freedom Of Information Act, holds the information).
Up to this point, most of our work has been focused on the revolving door for acquisition officials, regulators, and political appointees. But today's article demonstrates that there are many points at which outsiders can exert influence that may present a financial, personal or organizational conflict. And while the article concludes that the mentorship program does not break any existing laws — the Pentagon doesn't even have agency-wide rules specific to these mentor programs — it raises many ethical questions that merit additional investigation by Congress and the Inspector General. While these mentors undoubtedly provide important expertise, they may also help to preserve a military-industrial-complex culture. And based on these findings, it may be time to write some news laws or policies that ensure that the mentorship program is beneficial — not detrimental — to national security strategy and procurement decisions. As much as possible, taxpayers should be sure that the advice government officials receive places the public interest first.
Mandy Smithberger is the Director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information at the Project On Government Oversight.
Topics: National Security
Authors: Mandy Smithberger
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