Hundreds of former government officials, including former Pentagon officials, have been funneled through the infamous public-to-private revolving door to take their insider government knowledge to lobby for top defense contractors, a new report from the office of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) reveals.
According to the report released Wednesday, as of 2021, there were at least 672 former officials who were working for the top 20 defense contractors, with the vast majority — 91 percent — in positions lobbying the very government they formerly worked for. Officials who weren’t lobbyists were in top positions as board members or senior executives. The officials include former members of Congress, senior staffers and military officers.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the companies that employed the most former government officials are also the companies who receive the most from the government in contracts. In 2021 and 2022, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, General Dynamics and Pfizer were the top 5 federal defense contractors in the U.S. — and in 2021 also employed among the highest numbers of “revolving door hires” out of the top 20 contractors, the report found, each with dozens of former government employees.
Hiring former government employees is extremely lucrative for the private sector. This is especially true for lobbying firms, who can benefit greatly from the knowledge and connections brought by former government employees, but is also true for many industries; for instance, there is a well-established revolving door between jobs at the Treasury Department and other tax-related agencies and top accounting firms, an issue Warren has previously raised.
Defense contractors are especially able to take advantage of such lobbying, as Congress and the president regularly approve huge sums of money for defense each year —– more than half of that money typically goes straight to contractors, amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars a year. Over the years, this leads to trillions of dollars in profits for defense contractors.
Warren highlighted the dangers of the revolving door in a hearing in the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Wednesday.
“Why is it they want to hire former Pentagon employees to work for them as lobbyists?” Warren asked Lawrence B. Wilkerson, chief of staff to George W. Bush’s Secretary of State, Colin Powell. “Why is it better to have someone who, for instance, they could hire people whose profession is lobbying, someone who’s lobbied in another field, say for the last 10 years. But they don’t want that — they’ll take somebody who’s never lobbied before, but who’s been employed at the Pentagon. Why is that?”
Wilkerson responded that the former Pentagon official “knows how to work those contacts” within the government and knows what “lies” to tell to sell the company’s services.
“If it’s specific program like the F-35, for example, which I’m somewhat familiar, then you get people who are very familiar with that on the inside, know all about the lies that you’ve been telling the federal government with regard to the program, and will come out and reinforce those lies, deceit, if you will, from their position with your business,” Wilkerson said. “It’s a very insidious, pernicious thing.”
These issues are compounded by the fact that defense spending is rife with fraud and abuse, as those who support reducing the Pentagon budget point out. Despite receiving the vast majority of federal discretionary spending year over year, the Pentagon is the only federal agency to never have passed an audit.