When the Pentagon’s Door Revolves: “Brass Parachutes”

Canary. Photo by 4028mdk09.

POGO – Project On Government Oversight, founded in 1981, is “a non-partisan independent watchdog that investigates and exposes waste, corruption, abuse of power, and when the government fails to serve the public or those who report wrong doing.”

These are the guys who exposed “overpriced military spending on items such as a $7,600 coffee maker and a $435 hammer.”

In December, TNB ran the story, The Pentagon, DC & Amazon Web Services Cronyism. It covered the story of the Pentagon’s plan to open up a “winner-take-all competition” for a 10-year, $10 billion could service contract.

As we traversed this particular rabbit hole, we discovered that the bid may be rigged to favor Amazon Web Services, especially since it had already won two previous government contracts, one with the CIA in 2013, and that now former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who retired from the military in 2013, had partnered up with lobbyist Sally Donnelly. Mattis, after hiring Donnelly to run his nomination process, had brought her into the DoD the day after he was confirmed to become his “Senior Advisor.”

What are Donnelly’s qualifications for this high-ranking, high-security position, other than someone who set up her lobbyist shop, SBD Advisors, a half mile down from the White House in 2012 that was stacked with ‘former high-ranking officials from the NSA and the Pentagon,” to provide services to its clients to help “navigate the political and media environment in the national security space and maximize opportunities””?

Before all that, Sally Donnelly was a reporter for Time magazine.

Amazon Web Services was one of Donnelly’s SBD clients. Part of Donnelly’s duties as Mattis’ senior advisor was to vet his schedule and arrange his meetings. After a trip to Amazon’s headquarters in Seattle in August 2017, Vanity Fair reported, Mattis returned “convinced that the Pentagon needed to turn its data over to a commercial cloud provider.”

This isn’t the only time *Mattis used his brass and Pentagon influence to push private business contracts in the DoD, such as that time he put a bug in the ear of the DoD evaluating offices for the now defunct Elizabeth Holmes’ Theranos company when the young entrepreneur needed help getting an okay for her blood testing technology for military use without FDA approval for it first.

After he retired in 2013, the DoD gave Mattis permission to sit on the board of Theranos “provided he did not represent Theranos with regard to the blood-testing device and its potential acquisition by the Departments of the Navy or Defense.” He sat on the board until almost the company’s bitter end to January 2017.

Mattis also sat as a board of director’s member of General Dynamics.

Who is Patrick Shanahan? He holds a BS in ME and an MS in ME from MIT. He has worked for Boeing since 1986. By early 2016 he had risen to Boeing’s senior vice president of Supply Chain & Operations. In 2017, he was tagged for Deputy Secretary of Defense, the second highest level civilian in the Pentagon “to lead plans to increase the size of the military,” for the Trump administration.

Mattis’ chief of staff Kevin Sweeny retired in 2014 as a rear admiral. It was announced just last week he, along with Pentagon spokesperson Dana White, are leaving the Trump administration. Not an unexpected development considering Mattis is gone. Sweeny said in a statement, “After two years in the Pentagon, I’ve decided the time is right to return to the private sector.”

Brass Parachutes

Like with the private sectors who have policies in place to protect their interests from conflicts of interests, there are ethics laws in place that are “supposed to protect the public interest” from government officials who would use their “public service to advance their personal or financial interests at the expense of the public.”

In his 1961 farewell address, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned that the influence of the military-industrial complex could “endanger our liberties or democratic processes.”6 The revolving door of Pentagon officials and senior military leaders seeking lucrative post-government jobs does exactly that. It often confuses what is in the best financial interests of defense contractors—excessively large Pentagon budgets, endless wars, and overpriced weapon systems—with what is in the best interest of military effectiveness and protecting citizens.

Project On Government Oversight

During Shanahan’s confirmation hearing, McCain threatened to block his nomination over one of Shanahan’s written responses providing weapons to Ukraine. Shanahan claimed “he did not have access to classified military information in order to make a decision on the matter.”

McCain, expressing a concern in 2017 at the hearing “that the Department was too close and depended too much on its largest contractors,” added, “90 percent of the spending of the taxpayers’ dollars comes out of five different corporations.”

According to the “major findings” of POGO’s investigative report include,

There were 645 instances of the top 20 defense contractors in fiscal year 2016 hiring former senior government officials, military officers, Members of Congress, and senior legislative staff as lobbyists, board members, or senior executives in 2018 (see chart below). Since some lobbyists work for multiple defense contractors, there are more instances than officials.1

Of those instances, nearly 90 percent became registered lobbyists, where the operational skill is influence-peddling.

At least 380 high-ranking Department of Defense officials and military officers shifted into the private sector to become lobbyists, board members, executives, or consultants for defense contractors.

Of the Department of Defense officials POGO tracked through the revolving door, a quarter of them (95) went to work at the Department of Defense’s top 5 contractors (Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, General Dynamics, and Northrop Grumman).

Military officers going through the revolving door included 25 Generals, 9 Admirals, 43 Lieutenant Generals, and 23 Vice Admirals.

Project On Government Oversight

Explore the Pentagon Revolving Door Database – The Pentagon Revolving Door Database exposes the depth of the reciprocal relationship between senior Pentagon officials and defense contractors.

Explore the database of companies.

For example: Boeing “received $21,332,783,587 for FY 2017 from the Department of Defense” and hired 19 former officials from the DOD.

Explore the database of individuals.

For examples: In 2011, Stanley McChrystal became Chairman of the Board for Pentagon contractor Siemens Government Technologies; and Leon Panetta who, in 2014, “became a Senior Counsel at defense contractor consultant group Beacon Global Strategies.”

For further reading:

The Politics of Contracting; By Scott Amey; June 29, 2004; POGO

“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.”

Pentagon fails its first-ever audit, official says; Nov 15 2018; Reuters

“We failed the audit, but we never expected to pass it,” Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan told reporters, adding that the findings showed the need for greater discipline in financial matters within the Pentagon.”

“It was an audit on a $2.7 trillion dollar organization, so the fact that we did the audit is substantial,” Shanahan added.

On A Completely of the Rails Side Note (Opinion)

*Mattis shouldn’t feel too bad, he was among other ‘greats’ who fell for Holmes’ con, names like Besty DeVos, Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Sens. Sam Nunn and Bill Frist.

Former Secretary of State George Shultz’s grandson went to work at Theranos out of college ended up being a whistleblower who spoke to Wall Street Journal’s investigative reporter John Carreyrou who broke the story. Holmes threatened to “bankrupt” Shultz’s family if his grandson didn’t stop talking to WSJ. Shultz remained “true to Holmes” and the board he sat on and demanded his grandson stop talking.

About the opinions in this article…

Any opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this website or of the other authors/contributors who write for it.