President Obama’s nominee for a top weapons-buying job at the Pentagon recently served as a paid adviser for a big defense contractor and is declining to disclose whom else he has worked for on a government ethics form designed to help the public guard against potential conflicts of interest.
Frank Kendall III, Mr. Obama’s pick for principal deputy undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, received $75,000 in consulting fees last year from defense contractor SAIC Inc., according to his recently filed disclosure form. He also reported fees totaling $8,500 from Centra Technology, another defense contractor.
But he’s declined to name six other recent private clients, which were alluded to in the disclosure form but not identified. Federal ethics rules allow nominees to keep clients’ identities private in limited circumstances. But ethics analysts say the omission raises questions about whether any of the undisclosed clients are also military contractors.
“It kind of raises a red flag as far as the Obama administration’s efforts to keep contractors out of the Department of Defense,” Scott Amey, general counsel to the nonpartisan watchdog group Project on Government Oversight, said of Mr. Kendall’s defense consulting work.
The White House defended Mr. Kendall’s disclosures.
“Mr. Kendall is committed to adhering to the highest standards of ethical conduct as established by the president at the beginning of his administration with the issuance of the Ethics Executive Order,” White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said via e-mail.
“Mr. Kendall has engaged in no lobbying activities on behalf of his former clients,” Mr. Vietor added.
Mr. Obama’s ethics rules state that political appointees, whether they were lobbyists or not, cannot participate in any government decisions that “directly and substantially” relate to their former employers or clients. Mr. Vietor said Mr. Kendall will comply with that rule.
Bruce Green, a Fordham Law School professor and past chairman of the New York State Bar Association’s ethics committee, said nominees shouldn’t be required to disclose confidential clients’ identities. Doing so, he said, would mean that far fewer prospective candidates would be willing to enter government service.
Still, he said, Mr. Kendall could provide more information about the sort of work he has been doing for his clients without violating confidentiality rules.
“What he’s reporting doesn’t say a lot,” Mr. Green said. “He could say without violating confidentiality that four or two or however many of these six clients were defense contractors.”
Mr. Kendall’s disclosure doesn’t explain why he is keeping the names of his clients confidential.
Ethics rules permit such nondisclosure, for example, when the client and nominee had a written confidentiality agreement or if a client has been the subject of a grand jury proceeding.
At least two other defense appointees have done work for military contractors in the year before their appointments.
Former Harvard professor Ash Carter, the undersecretary for defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, reported receiving fees totaling $10,000 from Raytheon Co. and $65,000 from Mitre Corp., both defense contractors. William Lynn, the deputy secretary of defense, worked as a lobbyist for Raytheon.
Mr. Kendall is managing partner of Renaissance Strategic Advisors, a consulting firm “focused on the global defense, homeland security and commercial aerospace market,” according to the company’s Web site, www.rsadvisors.net.
The White House announcement of Mr. Kendall’s nomination said that for the past decade, he “had been a consultant to defense industry firms, nonprofit research organizations and the Department of Defense in the areas of strategic planning, engineering management and technology assessment.”
He also worked as a lawyer, primarily on a pro bono basis, on human rights issues. He was an observer at a military prison at the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for Human Rights First, and has served on the board of directors for Amnesty International USA.
Mr. Kendall served in the Pentagon from 1986 to 1988 as assistant deputy undersecretary for strategic systems and from 1989 to 1994 as director of tactical warfare programs. He also was vice president of engineering at Raytheon from 1994 to 1996.
“The United States of America has the most well-equipped military in the world, but I believe we can do much better at equipping and sustaining our forces,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing last month.
His ties to the defense industry never surfaced when senators questioned him, and he won praise from both political parties.
Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican who criticized Mr. Lynn’s appointment, said Mr. Kendall brought “broad experience” as a former active duty Army officer, as a Pentagon acquisition official and in the private sector. Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan Democrat and chairman of the committee, said Mr. Kendall had a “distinguishing background.”
Mr. Kendall isn’t alone among Mr. Obama’s nominees to keep his client list partly confidential.
Paul M. Fishman, recently sworn in as U.S. attorney for New Jersey, withheld the identities of 37 clients, saying they were involved in grand jury or other secret investigations.
A White House spokesman said Mr. Fishman would recuse himself from cases involving his former clients, even if the clients’ identities remain confidential.