Holding the Government Accountable

The Politics of Contracting

Executive Summary

Throughout 2003 and 2004, there was extensive media coverage involving Pentagon official, Darleen Druyun, who landed a high-level position with defense contractor Boeing after currying favor with the company through contracting decisions. At the time of her hiring in early 2003, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) called Druyun's move to Boeing the worst case of the revolving door in recent memory. Yet, her new position received little attention from the media or policymakers, demonstrating a resounding lack of concern for the real and perceived abuses by federal officials going through the revolving door to the private sector. In order to more fully understand the revolving door and political influence that the federal government's top contractors exert over decision-making, POGO launched an investigation and presents its findings here.

POGO examined the current top 20 federal government contractors from January 1997 through May 2004. In FY 2002, those top 20 contractors received over 40% of the $244 billion in total contracts awarded by the federal government. For each of those contractors, POGO's investigation documented campaign contributions, lobbying expenditures, government contract awards, and examples of federal officials moving through the revolving door to those companies. POGO's report provides individual profiles of each company. The primary findings include:

  • By examining corporate press releases and filings, POGO identified 291 instances involving 224 high-ranking government officials who shifted into the private sector to serve as lobbyists, board members or executives of the contractors. POGO found that at least one-third of the high-ranking former government employees who went to work for or to serve on the board of a government contractor were in agency positions allowing them to influence government contracting decisions. Generally, revolving door laws do not apply to the most senior policymakers who ultimately have the most power in shaping programs and policies that benefit contractors.

  • At least two-thirds of the former Members of Congress who are lobbying or have lobbied for the top 20 government contractors served on Authorization or Appropriations Committees that approved programs or funds for their future employer or client while they served in Congress. Those committees included: Armed Services, Appropriations, Intelligence, Ways and Means, and Commerce. Since 1997, Lockheed Martin - the contractor receiving the most federal award dollars - has hired twice as many former Members of Congress than the next closest contractor.

  • In the last three completed election cycles and the current cycle (as of December 2003), the top 20 contractors, and their employees, made $46 million in campaign contributions and spent almost $400 million on lobbying. Their political expenditures have helped to fuel $560 billion in federal contracts. Since 1997, the contractors have spent (on average) 8 cents on campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures for every $100 they have received from the federal government in contract awards. Of course, not all money spent on lobbying and political contributions can be directly tied to government contracts.

  • In FY 2003, out of nearly 23,000 white collar crime or official corruption cases prosecuted by the Department of Justice, only 12 (0.5%) involved revolving door allegations and only two revolving door cases resulted in convictions.

  • Until 1976, government contractors were barred from making contributions to a political party, committee, or candidate for public office.

  • Previously, the Department of Defense (DoD) kept statistics of former civilian and military employees hired by private contractors. In 1996, however, revolving door laws were "simplified" and, as a result, ending any illusion of transparency of DoD's revolving door.

After interviewing government officials and reviewing revolving door statutes, POGO concluded that federal conflict of interest and ethics laws are a tangled mess. Government employees struggle with a decentralized system of ethics laws and regulations - a multiple-layer system so convoluted that ethics officers and specially-trained lawyers hired to enforce them have pushed for a more simplified system.

At the same time, revolving door protections are weakest against abuse by high-level officials. Two of POGO's recommendations would, if implemented, correct flaws in the system, which led to high-profile scandals in recent years:

  • Prohibit, for a specified period of time, political appointees and Senior Executive Service policymakers (people who develop rules and determine requirements) from being able to seek employment from contractors who significantly benefitted from the policies formulated by the government employee.

  • Close the loophole allowing former government employees to work for a department or division of a contractor different from the division or department that they oversaw as a government employee. That loophole allowed Darleen Druyun to land a well-paid position at Boeing after currying favor with the company for many years in her capacity as a Pentagon procurement official.

POGO has 11 additional recommendations that would correct other revolving door weaknesses.

Click here to read the full report.