‘Rent-a-general’ business blurs lines between Pentagon, corporations
The practice of defense contractors hiring retired generals has become so common as to have blurred the lines between the Pentagon and the defense industry, an investigative report by the Boston Globe has found.
According to the Globe‘s Bryan Bender, 80 percent of three- and four-star generals who retired between 2004 and 2008 went on to work in the defense industry, often in roles that require direct contact with the Pentagon. In 2007, it was almost a “clean sweep,” with 90 percent of retiring generals heading almost immediately into the business.
The revolving door has become so entrenched that many successive generals responsible for a particular duty will be hired into the same roles at the same companies upon retirement, the report found, and many generals are hired to lobby the Pentagon on issues they were responsible for while still in uniform.
For most generals, “moving into what many in Washington call the ‘rent-a-general’ business is all but irresistible,” Bender reports.
Retired General Robert “Doc’’ Foglesong told the GLobe that the phenomenon is “changing the perception and maybe the reality of what it means to be a general. … “The fundamental question is whether this is shaping the acquisition system and influencing what the Pentagon buys. I think the answer is yes.’”
The investigative report found that:
■ Dozens of retired generals employed by defense firms maintain Pentagon advisory roles, giving them unparalleled levels of influence and access to inside information on Department of Defense procurement plans.
■ The generals are, in many cases, recruited for private sector roles well before they retire, raising questions about their independence and judgment while still in uniform. The Pentagon is aware and even supports this practice.
■ The feeder system from some commands to certain defense firms is so powerful that successive generations of commanders have been hired by the same firms or into the same field. For example, the last seven generals and admirals who worked as Department of Defense gatekeepers for international arms sales are now helping military contractors sell weapons and defense technology overseas.
■ When a general-turned-businessman arrives at the Pentagon, he is often treated with extraordinary deference — as if still in uniform — which can greatly increase his effectiveness as a rainmaker for industry. The military even has name for it — the “bobblehead effect.’’
In a video interview (see below), Bender places the Association of the US Army at the center of this nexus of corporate and government influence. The AUSA describes itself as a “private, non-profit educational organization that supports America’s Army,” but Bender reports that it is “almost entirely funded by the defense industry.”
Bender describes the group’s annual exposition — which this year brought together 30,000 officers and industry players — as a “matchmaker, if you will, between retired officers and industry.” He notes that, with 1,300 currently serving generals, the process of hiring retired officers into the defense industry is constant.
It’s “like the NFL draft,” he says.
Read the full Boston Globe report here.
The following video is from the Boston Globe.