- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 12, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

President Obama pledged to clean up the defense procurement and contracting process. He pledged to shut down the revolving door between government and the influence industry. But he doesn’t mind that top Pentagon spending officials have recent ties to top military contractors, further proof that his pledge of reform is largely an illusion.

As this newspaper reported Tuesday, Frank Kendall III, Mr. Obama’s nominee for principal deputy undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, received $75,000 in consulting fees last year from SAIC Inc. and $8,500 from Centra Technology. Both are defense contractors. Mr. Kendall also failed to provide the names of six other recent private clients on federal disclosure forms.

Though Mr. Obama promised tougher rules to stop officials from shuffling between government jobs and lobbying, Mr. Kendall’s nomination is not surprising. The revolving door between the Pentagon and defense contractors is legendary, and the president has kept up that tradition. William J. Lynn III, the deputy secretary of defense, worked as a Raytheon Co. lobbyist.

Ashton B. Carter, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, worked for both Raytheon and Mitre Corp. in 2008.

Terry A. Yonkers, Mr. Obama’s nominee for assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations and environment, serves as a top federal-business-development executive for Arcadis US. Though he would have no direct oversight over his former firm’s contracts if confirmed - including a recent $3 billion award - he would oversee Air Force environmental policies impacting his former employer.

The White House claims that such ties are copacetic because of Mr. Obama’s executive order requiring appointees not to work on matters that “directly and substantially” relate to their former employers. In practice, however, this is unavoidable. Positions like the ones for which Mr. Kendall and Mr. Yonkers are nominated involve policy decisions that impact the everyday interaction of defense contractors with the military.

Mr. Obama is free to hire whomever he wants to serve. Lobbyists or former corporate officials can bring valuable expertise to the policy table. But full disclosure of their corporate ties is a minimum. Mr. Obama’s ethics rules are not really the protection against corruption that he has touted them to be.

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