Blog — Conflict of Interests
The Department of Defense (DOD) is failing to retain all records of ethics opinions sought by senior defense officials looking to move from public service into the defense industry, according to a new report by the DOD’s Office of Inspector General (OIG). In other words, the DOD is not adequately tracking the Pentagon’s revolving door as it is required to do by law.
As CREW has previously detailed, in 2008, Congress passed legislation requiring senior defense officials and senior acquisition officials who meet certain criteria to request guidance from ethics officials before accepting compensation from a defense contractor. The law also required the DOD to keep those opinions in a centralized database.
The OIG, which is tasked with periodically reviewing DOD’s compliance with the law, found the department had not retained all of the required records in its centralized database and, subsequently, “may not have fully complied with the intent of the law.” In particular, the OIG found that records that should have been in the database were instead held in “multiple and decentralized locations.” The OIG reported that the DOD’s Office of General Counsel Standards of Conduct Office believed the Secretary of Defense didn’t have central authority to oversee compliance with the 2008 law and that it was acceptable to keep the records in multiple locations. The General Counsel’s office acknowledged “multiple databases or repositories maintained by the various individual components” of the DOD did not constitute compliance with the 2008 law only after the OIG completed its investigation. DOD’s failure to adequately retain the records meant the OIG was unable to provide the House Armed Services Committee information regarding how many ethics opinions had been issued or retained.
The OIG report also shines light on data the DOD released to CREW in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. After more than a year of litigation, the DOD provided CREW with a database containing information about ethics opinions sought by 379 senior defense officials between January 2012 and May 2013, with names, ranks, and other potentially identifying information omitted. The OIG conducted its own analysis of the information from that time period and found several organizations with “substantial contracting activity” were underrepresented, suggesting the database provided to CREW was missing some required records. The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) and the National Security Agency (NSA) were singled out as having “limited or no activity.” The database contained no records, in fact, from the NSA.
When OIG followed up with ethics officials at the NSA, they claimed the NSA was not required to provide its ethics opinions to the central DOD database because of a separate law allowing the surveillance agency to keep information about its personnel secret. Officials from the DLA, on the other hand, said they had thought use of the database had been placed “on hold” and that they would immediately beginning using it.
A spokesman for the Pentagon told Stars and Stripes that the DOD was working to address the department’s record-keeping failures, but claimed that the rest of ethics program was “operating effectively.” Without adequate retention of records though there is no way to know if that program actually is effective. As Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) noted, it is troublesome that the DOD “is willfully ignoring Congressional intent and not following the letter of the law to address the American public’s concerns about the revolving door between the Pentagon and defense contractors.” Since the revolving door is unlikely to stop spinning anytime soon, the Pentagon needs to at least get its act together and enforce the rules currently on the books.
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