Exemption Exception

/ January 22, 2009 at 5:00 AM

A Pentagon watchdog group wants William Lynn, a former Raytheon executive and registered lobbyist for the defense industry giant, knocked out of the running to be the Defense Department's No. 2 official and replaced with a candidate who does not require a waiver from new White House ethics rules.

Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, said her organization “believes strongly in the revolving door restrictions President Barack Obama has outlined to restore integrity and ethics to government.”

It is because we believe so strongly in the positive impact that such a change will have that we urge the President to withdraw his nomination of William J. Lynn III as deputy secretary of defense. President Obama should not compromise his standards and the effectiveness of the Department of Defense by allowing a top defense industry lobbyist to receive a waiver from these standards. The defense industry is in a class of its own among all of the industries that have had a pervasive stranglehold on public policy to advance their own financial interests.

Obama yesterday signed executive orders that set forth the strictest rules imposed by any president on lobbying activities for his administration.

Will this call by POGO move anyone in the Senate to block the nomination?

During Lynn's Jan. 15 confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) -- one of Obama's earliest and staunchest supporters in the Senate during the presidential campaign -- was the only lawmaker to raise the indelicate matter of Lynn's lobbying background.

SEN. MCCASKILL: Mr. Lynn -- you know, first of all, all of you I appreciate your service.  All of you are not coming back for the glory or the money; you're coming back because you want to serve, and I thank all four of you for that. And I don't mean by directing this question to in any way impugn your integrity, but the revolving door is an important issue for us to talk about, between the Pentagon and the defense community.

You went directly from the Pentagon to a defense contractor. 

You are coming back directly from a defense contractor, a major -- one of the largest defense contractors -- into the Department of Defense. And in that role, you have a major responsibility over acquisition procurement.

This is troubling to a lot of people who are just looking at this situation. We have gone a long way in Congress to try to begin to stop the revolving door. We haven't done as well as we'd like to, but there's a whole lot of attention in the public about the revolving door between lobbying and Congress and lobbying and Congress. Frankly, there isn't as much attention in the defense sector, and it's an incestuous business what's going on in terms of the defense contractors and the Pentagon and the highest levels of our military. I'd like to give you an opportunity to speak to it, since you're an example of it.  (Laughter.)
MR. LYNN: Senator, when I left the department I followed the strict ethics, procedures and didn't have any contact with the department for the period that's set by law. On coming back into the department, there are equally strict ethics procedures on what issues I can handle and what issues I can't. I will be working with the general counsel's office to ensure to ensure I follow those ethics procedures completely.
SEN. MCCASKILL: Well, do you have a comment -- I mean, do you feel like you could be somebody who could be a reformer in this regard?  Do you sense that there's something else that we need to do? Do you sense that there may not be a problem that there is maybe too much shortcutting of picking up the phone and dialing into the Pentagon from a defense contract agency because of former friends that are there and vice versa? I mean, do you have any sense that reform is needed here?
MR. LYNN: Well, I'm --
SEN. MCCASKILL: Do you hear the hopeful tone in my voice?
MR. LYNN: I do hear the tone, Senator. I'm not aware whether the DCAA case you -- I think you probably have more familiarity with the details as to whether that was people leaving DCAA and contacting back to DCAA.  I hadn't heard that, but perhaps you know more. I think we need to keep --
SEN. MCCASKILL: The best example I can give you is the Thunderbird scandal.  That was really somebody who had left the military and was working for a contractor and reached back in to get a    contract, a sweetheart contract, no-bid, noncompetitive contract for some PR work for the Air Force Thunderbirds.  That's one example; I can give you some other examples.
MR. LYNN: Well, Senator, I certainly believe that we need to maintain the highest ethical standards. I pledge to you that I will do that personally in terms of your hopefulness that we can reform. I will -- well, I will work to not only ensure that we follow the highest ethical standards but that we have the transparency that provides the public the belief, the understanding that indeed those standards are being followed. It's not just the reality, it's the perception, and I understand that and we plan to work on both.

The Senate Armed Services Committee received formal nominations of Pentagon appointees yesterday and has not yet voted on Lynn, according to a source on the committee.

-- Jason Sherman