Pentagon Revolving Door Raises Concerns Over Defense Policy Influence
As the Pentagon budget continues to climb towards $1 trillion per year and discussions surrounding Russia and China’s growing military capabilities dominate the political landscape, there is a pressing need for an independent evaluation of the best path forward. Unfortunately, this objective assessment is often compromised by the influence of special interests on defense policy decisions and allocation of funds.
One particular practice that introduces bias into shaping defense policy is the revolving door between the U.S. government and the weapons industry. This longstanding tradition of retired senior officials moving from the Pentagon and military services to the arms industry raises serious questions about conflicts of interest. The employment of well-connected ex-military officers in the arms sector grants them unwarranted influence over the Pentagon budget.
According to a report by the Government Accountability Office in 2021, over a five-year period, 1,700 senior government officials transitioned into roles within the arms industry, averaging well over 300 per year. A recent study conducted by the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft revealed that this phenomenon is particularly prevalent among top generals and admirals. Out of the 32 retired four-star generals and admirals in the past five years, 26 of them have joined the arms sector as board members, advisers, lobbyists, or consultants.
This revolving door extends beyond the major defense contractors. For instance, Boeing recruited Admiral John Richardson, the former Chief of Naval Operations, shortly after his retirement from government service. Admiral Richardson joined the company’s board of directors just two months after his retirement ceremony. Furthermore, the retired Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, later joined the board of directors of Lockheed Martin.
The trend of retired four-star officers seeking employment with defense contractors has now expanded to smaller and mid-size companies specializing in cutting-edge technologies such as next-generation drones, artificial intelligence (AI), and cybersecurity. General Stephen Townsend, former head of Africa Command, joined Fortem Technologies, a company focused on airspace awareness and defense against drones. General Mike Murray, former head of the U.S. Army Futures Command, joined the boards of three emerging defense tech firms—Capewell, Hypori, and Vita Inclinata. Other former high-ranking military officials, such as General Joseph L. Lengyel and Admiral William K. Lescher, have also ventured into working for AI firms after leaving government service.
Historically, the influence of retired military officials in the arms sector has skewed Pentagon spending priorities and led to higher military budgets. Previous investigations have shown examples of senior military officials advocating for dysfunctional weapons while in government and subsequently joining companies involved in producing those systems. Additionally, former military officers have played key roles in preventing the Pentagon from divesting itself of outdated and unnecessary weapons, such as the overpriced and underperforming Littoral Combat Ship. The true extent of these activities is difficult to track due to limited information available about the post-retirement actions of military officers in the arms industry.
To mitigate the undue influence of retired four-star officers and address potential conflicts of interest resulting from post-service employment, several measures should be implemented. This could include the expansion of cooling-off periods during which retired officers are prohibited from accepting certain positions in the arms industry, and the introduction of greater transparency regarding their activities and affiliations.
Given the substantial taxpayer dollars at stake and the importance of safeguarding our national security, it is crucial for Congress to take action to reduce the influence of the revolving door phenomenon sooner rather than later. By implementing preventative measures, the country can ensure a more independent and unbiased approach to defense policy decision-making.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Information Clearing House.