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Holding the Government Accountable

Former Pentagon Acting IG Cashes In with No Accountability

Last month, the Project On Government Oversight reported that Lynne Halbrooks—a former acting Inspector General (IG) at the Department of Defense (DoD)—would soon be exiting government. We wrote that her pending departure would leave many questions unanswered about her alleged efforts to suppress details of the collaboration between the government and Hollywood on Zero Dark Thirty:

Among the unanswered questions: Did Halbrooks shield [former CIA Director Leon] Panetta because she was angling for a permanent appointment to the IG position at the time? And did Panetta directly influence her decision to keep him and others out of the report when he met with her the same day the document was scrubbed?

At least one question has now been resolved: despite lingering doubts about her record as a Pentagon watchdog, Halbrooks has managed to spin through the revolving door and secure a job with a major law firm that represents one of the top contractors overseen by her former agency. She is now a partner at the law firm of Holland & Knight, which has a “history of hiring outstanding attorneys such as Lynne who have served with great distinction in government,” according to the firm’s announcement.

Halbrooks’ movement through the revolving door means she is unlikely to be held accountable for her role in the Zero Dark Thirty affair. But that’s not all. As a recent government official, she may be able to provide an advantage to defense contractors represented by her new firm.

In an email to POGO, Halbrooks said her practice “will include advising clients on inspector general and other federal investigations, enforcement defense, and compliance matters.” She said she will be working with the firm’s “white collar defense and investigations practice and the government contracts team.” Halbrooks added that she isn’t the only former government official on the team. “John Brownlee, who is the leader for these areas, spent nearly 11 years at DOJ and represents dozens of companies, including many government contractors,” she wrote.

When asked why Holland & Knight hired her for this position, Halbrooks said the firm “believes that my 24 years of government experience, including serving as a federal prosecutor, general counsel at three agencies and as acting IG for DOD, will help us offer important advice to our clients on a variety of legal matters and represent them in civil, criminal, and administrative proceedings.”

Halbrooks also told POGO she is “subject to post-government employment restrictions, including the representational restrictions in 18 U.S.C. 207.” This ethics law restricts former federal employees from personally contacting the government on issues they handled closely during their public service, and imposes a blanket one-year cooling-off period on former “senior” officials. But someone in Halbrooks’ position can typically go to work right away advising her law firm clients and colleagues on how to influence her former agency, as long as she isn’t the one doing the lobbying. Holland & Knight “has many lawyers who successfully transitioned from government service and is committed to strict adherence to these important rules,” Halbrooks added.

Holland & Knight received nearly $20 million in lobbying income last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The firm’s lobbying clients include Raytheon, a top defense contractor that was cited for quality control issues last year in a DoD OIG report on missile defense systems. Holland & Knight attorneys have played leadership roles with trade groups such as the National Defense Industrial Association, and the firm advises clients “in responding to Department of Justice, congressional, Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Inspector General (IG) subpoenas and investigations,” according to the website for Halbrooks’ new colleagues in the firm’s government contracts practice.

We hope that Halbrooks will use her new position to help clients do a better job of complying with contracting laws and regulations. But we worry that her move will only exacerbate the public’s distrust in government and demoralize other government employees who do not view public service as a stepping stone to a job representing the industry they used to oversee.

In an email to POGO, DoD OIG spokesperson Bridget Serchak said that Halbrooks “was not involved in any [OIG] matter that would affect her prospective employers, including specifically, the law firm of Holland & Knight. Nevertheless, out of an abundance of caution, Ms. Halbrooks elected to disqualify herself from any potential matters that may have involved all prospective employers. Furthermore, Ms. Halbrooks also established written screening arrangements where her staff would screen all matters to ensure they did not involve prospective employers.” Halbrooks never needed a waiver exempting her from this disqualification, Serchak said.

Serchak also stated that Halbrooks’ post-government activities are subject to the standard ethics restrictions for former federal employees, but that those restrictions do not “prohibit any former Government employee, regardless of Government rank or position, from accepting employment with any particular private employer.” She said that Halbrooks “actively engaged the OIG Designated Agency Ethics Official and agency ethics counselors throughout her transitional process from government service,” and “was provided a post government employment restrictions briefing by a DoD OIG ethics counselor.” In addition, Serchak said, Halbrooks requested and received a “Post-Government Employment Opinion regarding the applicability of the Procurement Integrity Act ‘1-year compensation ban’ to her employment with Holland & Knight.”

Serchak added that DoD IG Jon Rymer “has expressed and continues to express full confidence in Ms. Halbrooks’ integrity, judgment and professionalism.”

We’ve requested a copy of Halbrooks’ ethics records and will update this post with any information we receive. POGO has called for former government employees to cool off for a longer period of time before going to work as an attorney, consultant, or lobbyist for a company they used to oversee. We’ve also recommended more online disclosure of ethics records for officials such as Halbrooks, including ethics opinions, waivers, recusals, and exit plans.