Lockheed Martin is the top recipient of Department of Defense contracting dollars, receiving $29.4 billion in 2015 alone and serving as the prime contractor for the Department’s largest acquisition program, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Increasingly it’s looking like the company will soon have the most influence in top Pentagon posts as well. Heather Wilson, a former consultant for a Lockheed subsidiary, has already been named as Air Force Secretary. Now, according to the Washington Times, Lockheed Vice President Robert Rangel is a top contender to be the Deputy Secretary of Defense.
Both cases show how President Trump’s ethics executive order and current lobbying rules are insufficient to address the scope of financial conflicts of interest for officials who go through the revolving door.
This pattern of filling top posts with former defense contractor officials is not unique to the Trump administration. President Obama also issued an aggressive ethics executive order only to issue the very first waiver to allow former Raytheon lobbyist William Lynn to be the Deputy Secretary of Defense. In the end, Lynn agreed to recuse himself and not seek waivers from participating in programs he lobbied on, but only after significant pressure from Senator John McCain (R-AZ).
One of the biggest flaws in Obama’s executive order was that relying on the narrow definition of lobbyist to capture the full scope of financial conflicts of interest led to people avoiding registering as lobbyists while still working as hired guns for companies and industry associations. This defeated the purpose of the order and at the same time made tracking the influence industry less transparent. POGO urged both the Clinton and Trump transition teams to improve upon Obama’s ethics pledge by broadening it to apply to anyone with a financial conflict of interest.
Unfortunately, despite the fact that then-candidate Trump acknowledged this shortfall and promised to expand the definition of lobbyists to include consultants and advisors, the recent ethics executive order only applies to registered lobbyists. That said, we’re glad it prohibits appointees from working on matters related to former employers or clients for two years, along with issues on which they lobbied previously, and that it went farther than the Obama order by restricting appointees from lobbying their former agency for five years.
Continuing to rely on the military-industrial complex to fix the problems it profits from is unlikely to result in the kinds of reforms necessary to rein in wasteful Pentagon spending. Emails obtained by Patrick Malone at the Center for Public Integrity show Wilson to be precisely the kind of influence-peddler these reforms are meant to stop. Rangel’s own trip through the revolving door from the Pentagon and the House Armed Services Committee to Lockheed also appears to be part of the swampy behavior the public’s sick of seeing.