DoD’s Kendall says ‘revolving door’ is too thick

The Defense Department’s top procurement official is taking aim at watchdog-type laws that are put in place to discourage corruption in government.

Defense Undersecretary for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall said “revolving door” laws are too stringent and are keeping top talent from entering the public sector.

“It’s too hard to come in [to government] and come back out,” Kendall said March 2 at the D3 Innovation Summit in Washington. “We used to have very, very talented, the best and brightest people in government. They’d come in from industry for a few years, they’d make a contribution to their country and they’d go back and nobody assumed they were a crook. I think we’ve gone too far trying to protect ourselves from the rare person who is really going to do wrong and we deny ourselves an enormous amount of talent.”

DoD procurement officials who are involved in procurements over $10 million and are leaving the department must follow certain rules.

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Traditionally, there is a two year “cool down” period before those officials can take a job with a defense contractor. If the official knows he will be receiving pay from a defense contractor within the cool down period, he must request an ethics opinion about what he can do for the contractor under current ethics laws, a Congressional Research Service report from 2014 stated.

President Barack Obama signed an executive order in 2009 strengthening revolving door policies.

“President Obama has taken historic steps to close the ‘revolving door’ that carries special interest influence in and out of the government by prohibiting former lobbyists from working on issues on which they lobbied or in agencies they previously lobbied and barring them altogether from holding future positions on advisory boards and commissions,” the White House website said on the issue.

Revolving door laws were put into place to keep corruption at bay. Without the laws, government officials may give breaks or make decisions in favor of a company that promises them a job. Other scenarios involve former government employees using their connections to give companies an unfair advantage.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a government accountability group, obtained records from DoD from January 2012 to May 2013. The records found 84 percent of senior officials leaving the department had at “least one specific company or organization in mind, and defense companies dominated the list of prospective employers,” a release from CREW stated.

Among the companies were Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrup Grumman, General Dynamics and Raytheon.

In addition, a 2014 DoD Inspector General report found DoD was not abiding by the law in the way it tracked senior officials who left to take jobs with defense companies.

DoD was not keeping the legal opinions given to officials when they left the department for the proper amount of time and therefore had nothing to refer to if they broke the law.

DoD has been trying to attract talent under the leadership of Defense Secretary Ash Carter with his Force of the Future initiative.

Carter said during a press conference at the Pentagon this week that the reason the United States is able to conduct complex missions is because of the talented people involved, and DoD needs to make sure it can recruit a new generation of those employees.

Recently, DoD announced a series of personnel reforms to make military life more “family friendly” by adding more parental leave and expanding childcare services.

But the Force of the Future also plans to make it easier for talent to move back and forth between industry and government.

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