Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

`Revolving door' spins without close attention. Moves from Pentagon to private sector often go unrecorded

When Pentagon officials leave government for jobs in industry, they don't always formally say where they are going - as required by law. Thomas Cooper, a former assistant secretary of the Air Force, joined General Electric, a large defense contractor, in 1987. But he didn't file the ``revolving door'' form mandated by Congress to track such job changes.

Dr. Cooper - whose action in taking a job as GE vice-president was in no way improper - did notify the Air Force of his new job. But because of ``an administrative oversight'' he never got the revolving-door form, a GE spokesman says. ``The form is being sent to him and he will complete it.''

About these ads

This incident, far from isolated, points out a larger dilemma: how to monitor the flow of people between the military and industry, and prevent any abuses of public trust that might result.

The current defense procurement probe is focusing fresh attention on the Pentagon's revolving door. New laws are being called for in Congress.

A patchwork of laws, some dating from the Civil War, already govern the movement of defense officials to military contractors.

But loopholes and enforcement problems make much of this regulation ineffective, according to a Monitor analysis of records and a number of experts.

The basic disclosure law, in particular, is in disarray. The backbone of revolving-door restrictions, it requires those leaving the Pentagon for the defense industry to say what company they are joining and what their responsibilities will be. The measure is intended to help root out conflicts of interest.

Many who should file do not. Others say they do, but the forms don't show up in Pentagon drawers. Some of the forms that are on file aren't completed, or contain only cursory information about new duties.

The Defense Department's inspector general, June Gibbs Brown, admitted to Congress last week that recent audits have shown disclosure form compliance to be ``very negative.''

About these ads

GE vice-president Cooper is an example of someone who didn't file.

Another case is that of Donald Latham, former assistant secretary of defense for command, control, communications, and intelligence. Mr. Latham joined Computer Sciences Corporation in 1987 and says he recalls filling out a revolving-door form. The Pentagon Office of Standards and Ethics, however, has no record of his filing.

Ex-Army deputy undersecretary Amoretta Hoeber joined TRW in 1986. Anthony Tether, a former Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency official, joined Ford Aerospace in June 1986. Both say they filed; the Pentagon has no record of their forms in its 1986 or '87 entries.

Non-filings have been common in the past. In 1986 the General Accounting Office found compliance with the disclosure law then in effect to be only about 30 percent.

A GAO official says Pentagon moves to improve reporting should help, but ``I'd be surprised if they get 70 percent compliance.''

When leaving government, Pentagon officials have ``five inches worth of paper work'' to fill out, says one former Army officer. Revolving-door forms thus may sometimes get lost in the shuffle.

And the Defense Department ethics office, the final repository for the forms, is itself understaffed and unable to chase down those who should be filing, but aren't, according to Pentagon officials.

Disclosure forms go unused

In fiscal 1985, 3,842 Defense Department officials filed disclosure forms saying they were going to work in industry. In 1986, after Congress expanded the law's coverage and made the form more complex, 1,608 people filed. For 1987 the figure was 425, according to documents supplied by the ethics office.

Officials at the civil service level GS-13 or above, and military officers of major and lieutenant commander rank and above, are subject to the disclosure laws. Large defense contractors that hire them are supposed to file similar reports.

Beyond disclosure, there are a number of laws on the books governing what jobs former Pentagon officials cannot take.

As with other officers of the executive branch, Pentagon employees are subject to a general law that limits their ability to lobby former co-workers. Civil War-era scandals prompted passage of a little-known law that bars military officers from selling materials to the Defense Department for three years after retirement, with loss of retired pay the penalty for infractions.

The most recent restrictions were passed in 1986, in the wake of an earlier defense procurement scandal. Among other things, they bar certain Pentagon officials from working for a contractor for two years if, while in government, they spent the majority of their work hours overseeing one of that company's contracts.

These laws do not prohibit defense officials from taking industry jobs related to their Pentagon work. Disclosure forms, for instance, show that:

Samuel Hodnett, deputy chief of the fighter division of the Air Force Center for Studies and Analyses, in 1987 took a job with McDonnell Douglas researching Air Force fighter needs for the future.

Lt. Col. Jeffrey Frey, an Army strategic defense analyst, in 1986 went to work for Nichols Research Corporation on development of defense against tactical missiles. Plans to plug loopholes

Some lawmakers say loopholes in revolving-door law need plugging. Rep. Barbara Boxer (D) of California is pushing legislation that would ban senior officials who deal with a number of contracts from going to work for any of the companies whose work they oversaw.

It is aimed at such people as former Navy Assistant Secretary Melvyn Paisley, a defense consultant under investigation in the current probe. Mr. Paisley oversaw a number of contracts in his Navy post, and thus wasn't bound by current law, according to congressional aides.

Stiffer penalties are also being considered for those who violate revolving-door regulations.

Yet many believe the current laws are stringent enough. They argue that further curbs would discourage talented people from working at the Pentagon in the first place, and undermine the easy exchange of expertise vital to weapons development.

``If you run the government in such a way that you deprive yourself of the benefits of everyone who has worked in industry you are depriving yourself of an awful lot of talent,'' says John Kester, a former senior official at the Defense Department.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.