US Military Brass Retire to Wallow in the Defense Trough
The extent to which top US military figures complete their careers and stick their snouts into the trough of major defense contractors is astonishing, according to a report released by, of all people, the foundation partly funded by right-wing billionaire Charles Koch.
The 204-page report was released on Nov. 5, 2018 but has largely escaped public notice. It is titled “Brass Parachutes: Defense Contractors’ Capture of Pentagon Officials Through the Revolving Door.” It shows that the top 20 US defense contractors hired 645 “former senior government officials, military officers, members of Congress and senior legislative staff as lobbyists, board members, or senior executives in 2018.”
Among them is President Donald Trump’s Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, whom he fired last month, who went from his position as a US Marine general and commander of the US Central Command to Raytheon on his military retirement. He is expected to return to Raytheon in due time. Mattis’s Deputy Secretary, Patrick Shanahan, who was just elevated to acting defense secretary, came the opposite direction -- from Boeing, the Pentagon’s second largest contractor. A complete list can be found in the report.
Of the top military and defense officials, according to the report, compiled by the Koch-supported Project on Government Oversight, or POGO, nearly 90 percent became registered lobbyists. At least 380 high-ranking Department of Defense officials and military officers including 25 generals, nine admirals, 43 lieutenant generals and 23 vice admirals shifted into the private sector to become lobbyists, board members, executives or consultants for defense contractors.
Those figures make an absolute mockery of the famed farewell address of President Dwight D. Eisenhower on Jan. 17, 1961, in which he warned that “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”
The speech deserves to be read in its entirety. It is here.
The acquisition of "unwarranted influences," as Eisenhower called them, actually signify why the US is now concerned about its inability to take on potential enemies, of which China is fast becoming the most potent. As Asia Sentinel reported on Nov. 19, 2018, a pessimistic new 89-page report by the National Defense Strategy Commission on US defense capability questioned whether the US military has lost its ability to confront potential enemies, who are said to be gaining fast in military capability despite the fact that the US spends more on national defense than the next seven nations combined – China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, France, United Kingdom, and Japan – and it wants to spend a lot more.
President Donald Trump, after some hesitation, wants to raise the 2019 defense budget to US$750 billion. But as Asia Sentinel reported, What have they done with the money they had?
Through the magic of lobbying the US government, these admirals, generals, lieutenant generals and vice admirals managed to persuade the Congress to give them an unending cornucopia of money for overpriced and arguably ineffective weapons while the country’s military adversaries were figuring out how to make more effective weapons for dramatically less money. The US has 19 aircraft carriers of various kinds that other nations have figured out how to kill. The US is still building aircraft carriers. Go figure. US defense spending accounts for 15 percent of all federal spending and roughly half of discretionary spending.
“When it comes to government officials, there are ethics laws that are supposed to protect the public interest,” according to the Koch foundation-supported report. “These laws should prevent government officials from using their public service to advance their personal or financial interests at the expense of the public. These laws are frequently insufficient, however. For instance, laws regulating the revolving door—the practice of government officials leaving public service to work for companies they oversaw or regulated—have been ineffective at slowing or stopping it.”
This revolving door between the government and the corporations it does business with, the report notes “often creates the appearance that government officials are improperly favoring a company in awarding or managing federal programs and contracts. Without transparency and more effective protections of the public interest the revolving door between senior Pentagon officials and officers and defense contractors may be costing American taxpayers billions.”
The revolving door of Pentagon officials and senior military leaders seeking lucrative post-government jobs often confuses what is in the best financial interests of defense contractors, the report notes—"excessively large Pentagon budgets, endless wars and overpriced weapon systems—with what is in the best interest of military effectiveness and protecting citizens.”
The report says POGO, has “has consistently found federal ethics laws to be a tangled mess and insufficient to prevent conflicts of interest… While those trends may benefit defense industry executives and their stockholders, they undermine competition and performance, lead to higher prices for the military and taxpayers, and can diminish military effectiveness.
Following World War II, according to the report, most five-star generals chose not to go through the revolving door. General George Marshall, who formulated the Marshall Plan that saved Europe in the wake of WWII destruction, led the Red Cross. Eisenhower himself became president of Columbia University.
“[A]n officer who has had procurement duties going with any company which does business with the government presents a problem to the government, to the company with which he goes, and to himself,” General Omar Bradley told the House Armed Services Special investigations subcommittee in 1959. “[N]o former member of the Government should take advantage of his previous position to bring any influence on members of the Defense Department, or any department of Government, to grant contracts to the company with which he is now affiliated.”
The vast majority of the individuals identified in the report didn’t violate laws or regulations, POGO says, but that appears to be because the ethics laws are insufficient to protect the public interest.
“Instead, the system is skewed by undue influence, rewarding those public officials who favor a future employer or industry with contracts or lucrative jobs. The public is rightfully concerned about the concentration of wealth and self-dealing in the Capitol, with five of the ten richest counties in the United States located within an hour of Washington, DC. Some of that wealth is connected to increased spending on contracting, with the Washington region receiving 17 percent of all federal procurement spending in fiscal year 2016.
The report describes industry programs like “From Battlefield to Board Room” that match up retired and soon-to-be retired military officers with private companies including large federal contractors looking to hire new leadership. Former Maj. Gen. Mike Boera, the Air Force’s director of programs and director of requirements and developed programs and business plans for weapon systems, became the Executive of Intelligence, Information and Services at Raytheon.
The Principal Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force Darleen Druyun, who oversaw the management of the Air Force's weapons acquisition program from 1993 to 2002, helped Boeing win billions of dollars in business while simultaneously negotiating jobs at Boeing for her son-in-law, and eventually herself. She was eventually jailed for nine months.
Although President Barack Obama issued an ethics executive order banning lobbyists from working in agencies they lobbied during the previous two years, he issued the first waiver shortly thereafter to his first Deputy Secretary of Defense, William Lynn, who was previously a Raytheon lobbyist. The last Deputy Secretary for the Obama administration, Bob Work, joined Raytheon’s board shortly after he retired from the government.
There are dozens more. The report is worth reading in full. Here is a list of the defense companies who have found their associations with the ex-military inordinately profitable.