A recent report by the Department of Defense’s Inspector General [PDF] reveals the Pentagon is not keeping track of whether former employees are complying with revolving door laws designed to prevent corruption in defense contracting.
Corruption has long plagued defense contracting and has long been criticized, perhaps most famously by President Dwight Eisenhower in his presidential farewell, when he warned of a military-industrial complex. Waste, fraud, and abuse in defense contracting has cost taxpayers billions, perhaps hundreds of billions–but since the Pentagon cannot currently be audited, the real number is hard to know.
One of Eisenhower’s early drafts of the speech actually used the term military-industrial-congressional complex, which would have been more apt. Congress is a major facilitator of corruption at the Pentagon, pushing for superfluous and wasteful weapons programs, often at the behest of campaign contributors. Arguably just as insidious is the use of political engineering by the Pentagon, which helps build support for those weapons programs by strategically distributing jobs related to those weapons systems in key congressional districts and states.
Nonetheless, Congress did finally take some action in the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which requires Department of Defense acquisition officials to get an ethics opinion letter [PDF] from the Pentagon before cashing-in on their public service with a defense contracting firm. The defense contractors themselves were also supposed to verify that any new employee, who had worked for the Department of Defense in the two years prior to their employment, had an ethics opinion letter.
But, as reported by Government Executive, the Inspector General’s report claims the rules created by the NDAA in 08 are not being followed:
In 2011, the department required all Defense organizations to submit those letters, and any corresponding documents, into an online application called the After Government Employment Advice Repository. When asked by Congress last year to report back on the number of opinions written by Defense ethics officials on the limitations former employees would face in their new jobs, the IG found that department entities were blowing past deadlines and failing to process the documents altogether.
Those failures, the IG said, led to a system with no “audit trail” and data that were “incomplete and not credible.”
In other words, bringing more transparency and accountability to defense contracting has mostly been a bust. And without tracking the revolving door between the Pentagon and defense contractors, it is much more difficult to bring accountability for any corrupt behavior later. The initial short-circuiting of the regulation has reverberating consequences all the way down the line.
Then again, does anyone in the military-industrial-congressional complex really want transparency and accountability? It seems the folks that brought you Total Information Awareness are doing their best to ensure the public is totally unaware of their own activities.