More than half of the panel members appointed to review the Pentagon's latest four-year strategy blueprint have financial ties to defense contractors with a stake in the planning process, a USA TODAY analysis shows.
Congress created the 20-member panel in 2006 to analyze the Defense Department's four-year plan, known as the Quadrennial Defense Review. Lawmakers called for the committee to provide an independent "alternate view" of the Pentagon's plan, which shapes future military policy and spending on weapons and other needs….
A dozen of the unpaid panelists were appointed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and eight by the top Republican and Democrat members of the House and Senate Armed Services committees. Eleven work for defense contractors as employees, consultants or board directors, records show."The Pentagon often talks about its cooperation with industry, but this makes you wonder who's wearing the pants in this relationship," said Mandy Smithberger, national security investigator for the Project on Government Oversight.
Gates "takes very seriously" the ethical issues confronting panelists with ties to defense firms, said Paul Hughes of the U.S. Institute of Peace, the QDR committee's executive director. Last fall, the secretary ordered that his appointees be covered by federal ethics rules and had to disclose their assets and sources of income, Hughes said.
So seriously, in fact, that participants originally were not going to be covered by any disclosure rules about conflicts of interest. Now
Committee members will have to file financial disclosure statements to the Pentagon, but those disclosures won't be publicly available, said Cynthia Smith, a Defense Department spokeswoman.
There's no question that folks in the military-industrial complex (meant unironically) need to be at the table, as they bring an absolutely valid and important perspective to anything having to do with the future of military spending. At the same time, given the historic amounts of waste, fraud, and deception that goes into the development, procurement, and delivery of new weapons and other systems, every American who is alive and those not yet born are right to be reaching for their wallets. And as Give 'Em Hell Harry Truman could tell you, the waste goes on even (especially?) during existential wars such as The Big One.
"Could you find anybody who knows anything about defense who doesn't have some potential conflict of interest?" [John Lehman, a Reagan-era Navy secretary with mega-ties to all sorts of conflicts appointed to the committee by Sen. John McCain] asked.
Some experts say the answer is yes. "There are retired military officers or Defense officials who don't have defense industry ties. If you wanted to find these people, you could," said Jordan Tama, an American University professor and expert on government commissions….
[The disclosure rules in place are] not sufficient, said Janine Wedel, a George Mason University professor and author of a book on government contracting. "It's the ultimate irony when an entity ostensibly set up to provide impartial oversight is in fact rigged to be much less impartial than what it is supposed to be overseeing," she said.
Take it away, Ike, on the "acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex," which should be required viewing of all panelists. And of spending watchdogs at joints like the Heritage Foundation what insist that 4 percent of GDP (not 3.5 or 4.12) always be spent on defense no matter what). Because baby, and John Lehman, needs a new pair of shoes.