Media Contacts: Mandy Smithberger, Director of the Center for Defense Information at the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), [email protected]; or Caitlin MacNeal, Communications Manager at POGO, [email protected] or 732-757-7370
(WASHINGTON)—We recognize the historic nature of the nomination of retired General Lloyd Austin to lead the Defense Department, and we respect President-elect Joe Biden’s effort to increase diversity in Defense Department leadership. However, it’s not clear that Austin’s ties to the defense industry will serve Biden well when it comes to enacting Pentagon reforms. And there are plenty of civilians with experience in national security agencies, Congress, or in private businesses that aren’t major defense contractors who could successfully fill the role of secretary of defense.
Austin has been on the board of Raytheon, a major defense contractor, since 2016, for which he has received $1.4 million in total compensation. He’s also a partner at the investment firm Pine Island, which recently started targeting the defense industry. It’s inappropriate for someone with such significant ties to industry to lead a department that relies so much on contracting.
The influence of the defense industry on the Pentagon has contributed to the department’s decisions to purchase unnecessarily expensive weapons systems and involve the United States in endless wars.
As the coronavirus pandemic has made abundantly clear, the U.S. is overdue for a serious evaluation of national security spending. We face myriad threats, yet place too much emphasis on defense at the expense of other issues. If the government is going to enact meaningful reforms and make much-needed cuts to the defense budget, choosing a leader from industry is not the answer.
Also problematic is that Austin has not been out of the military for the required seven years. Civilian control of the military is a cornerstone of our democracy and built into our Constitution, and his nomination does not align with that. To serve as Pentagon chief, Congress would need to waive the cooling-off requirement.
If confirmed, Austin must pledge not to return to the defense industry for two years after his tenure as defense secretary. The revolving door between the Pentagon and its contractors must stop turning. Biden should also fill other senior roles at the department with civilians who don’t have ties to industry, so that those who surround Austin have a broad range of experience.
“If President-elect Biden is serious about enacting reform upon taking office, he would be better served by a defense secretary without ties to one of the top five contractors. We need defense leaders who are ready to make decisions that are right for the American people, not former industry officials who stand to be influenced by their ties to contractors,” said Mandy Smithberger, director of the Center for Defense Information at the Project On Government Oversight. “The revolving door between the Defense Department and industry has contributed to far too many decisions that benefit defense contractors at the expense of the American public, and I’m disappointed to see that Biden isn’t committed to mitigating industry influence on the government.”
Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that investigates and exposes waste, corruption, abuse of power, and when the government fails to serve the public or silences those who report wrongdoing.
We champion reforms to achieve a more effective, ethical, and accountable federal government that safeguards constitutional principles.