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Answer to Armed Services Chairmen Turned Industry Lobbyists

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I received a very interesting letter the other day. Two former chairmen of the powerful congressional armed services committees, Ike Skelton and John Warner, wrote to me saying:

It was a great disappointment to read your blog posting that appeared on your website on May 30th. It incorrectly connected and inappropriately characterized our participation on the Coalition for Fiscal and National Security as somehow being in support of the parochial agenda of the Project on Government Oversight.

And this:

To partially rectify this impropriety, we appropriately request that the Project on Government Oversight post this letter on the same blog website, remove the inaccurate references to our work from your opinion piece and refrain from further reference to our efforts.

Posting the letter is no problem (it is here), but I think there is a difference of opinion on the accuracy of our reference, and, of course, we at POGO don’t usually agree to gag ourselves.

In our May 30 post, “Pentagon Tells Congress: Stop Giving Us What We Don’t Need,” we highlight a letter from Members of Congress to Defense Secretary Hagel in which the Coalition is cited. We made only one tangential, passing reference to the Coalition in our post: 

In the April 19 letter, the bipartisan group of Representatives told Secretary Hagel they support his pledge to “reshape the Department of Defense to better reflect 21st century threats and fiscal realities.” They reference a call from fifteen former senior national security officials dubbed the Coalition for Fiscal and National Security to assess ways Congress and the Administration can make smart cuts to the defense budget. Also citing overwhelming public opinion in favor of reducing Pentagon spending, the Members applauded Secretary Hagel’s leadership on the issue.

I can’t help but wonder if The Wall Street Journal has also been told to “refrain from further reference to our efforts.” Here’s what appeared in the WSJ’s “Washington Wire:”

A bipartisan group of 15 former senior national security officials called Tuesday on lawmakers and the Obama administration to weigh military spending cuts as part of a broad deficit-reduction deal that avoids the so-called fiscal cliff.

Dubbed the Coalition for Fiscal and National Security, the group is led by Michael Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and sponsored by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. It calls for the nation’s leaders to conduct a significant strategic review of the military to deal with future cuts.

That sounds like what we characterized as “smart cuts.”

But something tells me this isn’t really about our blog post.

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that while the Coalition is making the right noise in general, it stops short of suggesting cuts that might impact Big Defense. In fact, the few specifics that have made would actually boost the profits of high-tech defense companies. And, as the Huffington Post reports, the current chairman, retired Admiral Michael Mullen, is the only one of 15 members of the Coalition who appears to not have profited from his public service.

Both Warner and Skelton work for lobbying firms representing, and sit on the boards of, big defense contractors, and are, like nearly all the other Coalition members, “deeply invested in companies with huge Pentagon contracts to build, in many cases, precisely the types of high-tech weapons that coalition members support.”

Still, these former chairmen say they wish to “urge a broader understanding of the nation’s fiscal challenges and the present impasse between the Executive Branch and the Congress, both of which pose a clear and present danger to our national security.” 

If true, I invite them to join me for a civil dialogue on how to achieve this together. In any case, I’m glad they are reading POGO’s blog. Who knows, we may have another reason to talk about their work in the not-too-distant future.

By: Danielle Brian
Executive Director, POGO

danielle brian Ms. Brian's areas of expertise include: National Security, Government Oversight, Wasteful Defense Spending, Ethics, Open Government, Whistleblower Issues

Topics: National Security

Related Content: Defense, Wasteful Defense Spending

Authors: Danielle Brian

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