WASHINGTON (AP) - More than 200 government officials, military brass and members of Congress who left their jobs since 1996 went to work as lobbyists or corporate officials with the 20 largest federal contractors, according to a study by a private group.
Those contractors have spent $390 million to lobby the government, have given $46 million in campaign donations and have received more than a half-trillion dollars in government work since 1996, according to the private Project on Government Oversight.
The two-decade-old group based in Washington tries to uncover government waste, fraud and abuse.
It is impossible to determine precisely how many people trade in their high-ranking government jobs for posts with federal contractors because Congress repealed a requirement that the Pentagon compile such statistics eight years ago, the group said. Most of the top 20 are defense contractors.
The group hunted for crossovers by sorting through the pool of 2,500 presidential appointees, military officers and members of the Defense Department's senior executive service in positions that directly affect government programs and policies.
"It is frequently difficult to determine where the federal government stops and the private sector begins," said the report entitled "The Politics of Contracting."
The group cited examples such as a Pentagon contracting officer who engaged in job talks with Boeing while overseeing negotiations on a multibillion-dollar deal with the airplane manufacturer; a former undersecretary of defense for acquisition who joined the board of Lockheed Martin two months after approving a contract for a new Air Force fighter jet, and the appointment of industry representatives to federal advisory boards.
Contractors disputed the report's conclusions and said it is misleading to add up the numbers for the past 7 1/2 years because many of the former government officials have left the companies that hired them, while in other instances there are long gaps between the executives' government service and their hiring by federal contractors.
"As a retired military officer, I'm offended by the insinuation that we do things improperly and inappropriately," said Lockheed Martin spokesman Tom Jurkowsky, a retired rear admiral. The largest federal contractor has hired 56 former government officials and ex-members of Congress since 1977.
Boeing spokesman Doug Kennett said the report is incorrect because it gives the impression that Boeing is expending all its efforts in Washington on government contracting.
Seventy percent of Boeing commercial aircraft sales are with foreign customers and as the largest U.S. exporter, the company puts much of its effort in Washington into trade policies and legislation favoring exports.
Government officials often have unique technical expertise and it would be a disservice to the company's customers and its shareholders to dismiss them from consideration for jobs with the company, said Northrop Grumman spokesman Frank Moore. The company has hired 20 of the more than 200 people in the study.
A few members of Congress are trying to slow down the revolving door.
Senate Commerce Committee chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., is following the issue closely and hopes to hold a hearing.
Sens. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and Russ Feingold, D-Wis., are pushing a proposal to expand the current one-year ban on some government officials going to work for contractors they were involved with while in government. Byrd and Feingold also want to require government acquisition officials and policy-makers to file ethical disclosures before accepting a job with a contractor.
Many former members of Congress who hired on with one or more of the 20 contractors served on appropriations committees that approved programs or funds for their future employer, says the report, mentioning former House Appropriations Committee chairman Robert Livingston, R-La., and former Rep. Vic Fazio, D-Calif., who are with separate lobbying firms in Washington.
Fazio said Northrop Grumman, where he serves on the board, has traditionally had a former member of Congress as a director "as a way of keeping them in touch with that world. I do not lobby for them."
The group says the government should:
-Replace the complex multitiered system of ethics laws and regulations with a clear and consistent rule of ethical conduct for the entire government.
-Require government officials to enter into a binding revolving door exit plan that sets forth the programs and projects from which the former employee is barred from working.
-Bar government policy-makers for a specified period from being able to seek employment from contractors who significantly benefited from policies formulated by the government employee.
-Close a loophole that enables government policy-makers to go to work for a unit of a contractor different from the unit they oversaw as a government employee.
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