POGO has learned more details about the Air Force's proposed debarment of Booz Allen Hamilton's San Antonio office. This new information raises a troubling prospect about the revolving door between government and private contractors. Namely, that stopping its abuses often isn’t as easy as it seems.
According to the memorandum in support of the proposed debarment, a Booz Allen employee disclosed sensitive, non-public government procurement data. The employee, Joselito Meneses, was hired as a senior associate at Booz Allen’s San Antonio office in April 2011. He formerly served as a deputy chief of information technology at the Air Force, where he had achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
According to the memo, on his first day of work, Meneses brought along a hard drive containing non-public source selection and bid or proposal information he obtained while working at the Air Force. At 9:28 a.m., shortly after arriving at the office, he sent out an email to co-workers containing sensitive pricing and labor mix data relating to an Air Force contract for IT work that Booz Allen intended to bid on when the contract expired. The data would have given Booz Allen an unfair competitive advantage. The four co-workers to whom Meneses sent the email were also proposed for debarment, as was Meneses back in September.
Here’s where things get interesting. The memo notes that, prior to starting work, Meneses attended at least six days of orientation and training – including training on the company-wide ethics program—at both Booz Allen’s McLean, Virginia headquarters and its San Antonio branch. The memo also mentions that Meneses retired from the Air Force in May 2008.
Thus, the Booz Allen incident can be considered a successful failure of the contracting system. It happened despite the presence of the usual accountability safeguards—Meneses went through several days of (we assume) rigorous ethics training, and he was hired after a “cooling-off” period of almost three years. But the wrongdoers were eventually caught (a Booz Allen employee reported Meneses’ email to the company’s legal department), the Air Force suspension and debarment office took the necessary precautions, and Booz Allen ended up withdrawing from the contract competition. The parties involved could also face prosecution under the Procurement Integrity Act.
Nevertheless, POGO still worries about the dangers posed by the revolving door. That’s why we continue pushing for public access to the Pentagon’s revolving door database. Our 2004 report on this issue, The Politics of Contracting, specifically looked at federal officials taking post-government jobs with companies they oversaw or conducted business with as a government employee. Eight years later, the report’s central premise still holds true: a contracting system where current and former public servants use their positions for private gain allows powerful corporations to rig the system in their favor, resulting in bad contracting decisions and increased public distrust in the government.