WASHINGTON―Four House Democrats are opposing a Department of Defense proposal to ease recent lobbying restrictions on former senior officials, arguing it would put the defense industry ahead of the taxpayer.
The lawmakers, led by California Rep. Katie Porter, are pushing back on the Pentagon’s argument the changes would make the restrictions more consistent with criminal law and other agencies. DoD requested the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act contain a partial roll back of the rules, which apply to former general officers and senior Pentagon civilians by amending the 2018 NDAA’s Section 1045.
“We do not believe that weak ethics rules for some agencies is a reason to roll back the relatively strong ethics rules at the Pentagon,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter Thursday to DoD General Counsel Paul Ney. “It is unfortunate that Congress has not enacted stronger ethics rules governmentwide, and we agree this should be a priority.”
DoD’s proposal would change a one-year lobbying ban for all senior officials, regardless of rank, to a two-year ban in place for some officials; narrow the definition of “lobbying” to apply only to direct “lobbying contacts” ― which would allow former personnel to work in less visible roles ― and eliminate the departmentwide lobbying ban so that former senior officials will be able to immediately lobby some components of the Pentagon.
House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee Chair Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., signed the June 11 letter to Ney with Reps. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, and Dean Phillips, D-Minn.―as part of an ongoing back and forth.
Speier and Porter, on Wednesday, published a column calling the proposal “misguided” and asking, “Why is the Pentagon trying to grease the revolving door between the military and the defense industry?”
In an April 30 letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, the group said the move was out of step with his efforts to cut costs at the Pentagon. Esper was Raytheon’s chief lobbyist before he entered the Pentagon as Army secretary.
“It is unclear how developing and delivering this relaxed lobbying proposal to Congress fits within these priorities or is in the best interests of the taxpayers who fund the DoD,” they wrote. “If anything, looser lobbying rules could bloat military spending that is unnecessary to protect our country.”
Ney’s May 20 response argued in part that the 2018 NDAA, “created a patchwork of restrictions” and that DoD’s proposed changes would conform better to longtime Office of Government Ethics guidance.
“These time-tested standards protect against undue influence without unreasonably interfering with the right of veterans and public servants to future employment,” Ney said.
The June 11 reply from the four lawmakers posed a series of hypothetical situations, asking if they would be allowed under DoD’s proposal:
“Could a former Air Force General who was involved in the F-35 program lobby high-ranking civilian officials in the F-35 Joint Program Office immediately after retirement, with no cooling-off period? Could they lobby civilian or uniformed officials in the Navy F-35 program?” the letter reads.
“If the answer to any of these questions is ‘yes’ or ‘possibly,’ do you believe that these are ethically acceptable outcomes, and why?”
The lawmakers also reiterated an unfulfilled request to DoD for all documents associated with the creation of the proposal and all correspondence with the DoD ethics office ― all by June 25.
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.