A landmark report by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) exposes the depth of the reciprocal relationship between senior Pentagon officials and Pentagon contractors. This “revolving door”—the practice of government officials leaving public service to work for companies they oversaw or regulated—is widespread and has enormous and expensive consequences for the American people.
The revolving door phenomenon often creates the appearance (or the reality) that government officials improperly favor one contractor over another in awarding or managing federal programs and contracts.
In 2007, Congress required the Department of Defense (DoD) to create and maintain a database to track its ethics opinions for senior officials and officers who seek employment with DoD contractors. However, that database is incomplete, deeply flawed, and kept secret from the public.
POGO has created a more complete and public database to achieve the same goal, listing over 380 high-ranking DoD officials and military officers who were scooped up by the private sector to become lobbyists, board members, executives, or consultants for defense contractors within two years of leaving DoD.
Mandy Smithberger, Director of the Center for Defense Information at POGO and author of the report, said, “When senior officials leave public service to work for companies with a financial interest in the operations of the Pentagon, or vice versa, it raises questions about whether government officials are truly making decisions based only on what’s best for national security, for men and women in uniform, and for the American people.”
Ethics laws are supposed to prevent government officials from using their positions in public service to advance their personal or financial interests at the expense of the public. However, these laws are frequently insufficient.
POGO’s report found that as of 2018, fiscal year 2016’s top 20 defense contractors had hired at least 645 former senior government officials, military officers, Members of Congress, and senior legislative staff. Nearly 90 percent of those former federal employees now work as lobbyists, where the operational skill is influence-peddling.
Of the DoD officials POGO tracked through the revolving door, a quarter of them (95) went to work at the DoD’s top 5 contractors: Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, General Dynamics, and Northrop Grumman.
Finally, the report recommends specific measures to strengthen, simplify, and clarify ethics laws, as well as to increase transparency for the public to be aware of and monitor the revolving door phenomenon and its effects.