Running the Pentagon isn’t most people’s idea of fun. The hours are long, the criticism is constant, and the pay isn’t much higher than the median household income in nearby Fairfax County. So it is getting harder to find qualified people who are willing to serve in top Pentagon jobs. Democratic administrations have a solution to the staffing dilemma, because almost everybody in academia is a liberal. Places like Harvard’s Kennedy School are full of left-leaning scholars who have spent their lives studying how to manage the federal government — people who think that getting an impressive title and making a bit above the median Fairfax income (about $100,000) sounds pretty cool.
But what about Republican administrations? They have a real staffing challenge, because their main pool of recruits for government jobs is industry. Most of the executives currently running companies have lucrative stock options and other investments they would have to give up if they went into government, to satisfy conflict-of-interest rules. And departing an industry job in mid-career isn’t like taking a leave of absence in academia — your career may never recover. So Republican administrations tend to draw senior Pentagon managers from the ranks of industry executives who have already retired, especially those who made their careers in the defense industry.
Donald Rumsfeld thought that was a good approach to populating his Pentagon management team, because he didn’t have much use for congressional staffers and other neophytes who lacked “practical” experience. But here’s the rub: the industry types he picked for senior jobs ended up making multi-billion-dollar decisions about their former colleagues and competitors. Take the job of Air Force under-secretary, the position that oversees military space programs. The Bush administration’s first choice for that job was Al Smith, former head of Lockheed Martin’s space business. When Smith withdrew in disgust over delays in the process, the administration turned to Pete Teets — another Lockheed space executive.
Nobody would accuse Teets of favoring Lockheed while in the Air Force job. Quite the opposite: he waited too long to kill a spy satellite that Boeing had won at Lockheed’s expense, despite copious evidence that Boeing was executing the program poorly. A similar pattern unfolded with Teets’ boss, Air Force secretary James Roche. Roche was recruited from Northrop Grumman, where he had been a strong advocate of the company’s B-2 bomber. Once he arrived at the Air Force — not long after losing a succession struggle at Northrop — he became the bomber’s biggest enemy. Roche departed the Air Force under a cloud, and was replaced by former General Dynamics executive Mike Wynne. Shortly thereafter, another former Northrop Grumman exec named Donald Winter became Navy secretary, and almost immediately launched a crusade against the shipbuilding business of his former employer.
The latest chapter in this strange litany is deputy defense secretary Gordon England’s current campaign to kill the F-22 fighter. England played a central role in developing the F-22 while running the business that became Lockheed Martin’s fighter unit. He too lost a succession struggle, and later went into government. Now he wants to kill his creation even though it is the Air Force’s top modernization priority, and spend the money on other programs. Whatever his reasons for taking that position, you have to wonder whether it really serves the public interest to give former defense-industry executives a leading role in determining the fate of companies that once employed them.
Find Archived Articles: