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Project on Government Oversight




Government Contractors Wield Influence Through Revolving Door, Campaign Contributions

June 29, 2004 


In recent years, the federal government's top contractors have hired 224 Members of Congress and government officials through the "revolving door" and spent $436 million on lobbying and campaign contributions, according to "The Politics of Contracting," a new report issued by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO).

Scott Amey, POGO's General Counsel, stated: "Over the years, the revolving door has become an accepted and unchallenged practice throughout Washington. It is time for Congress to put its foot in the revolving door to stop conflicts of interest. Legal loopholes need to be closed, conflicts of interest and ethics laws need to be simplified, and the entire process needs to be opened to public scrutiny."

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) is expected to hold hearings in mid-July conducting the first congressional oversight of the revolving door in a decade. Senator McCain's oversight of Boeing's tanker lease deal ultimately revealed the case of Pentagon official Darleen Druyun who landed a high-level position with the contractor.

POGO's report found that revolving door laws generally do not apply to the most senior policymakers who ultimately have the most power in shaping programs and policies that benefit contractors.

POGO examined the current top 20 federal government contractors from January 1997 through May 2004. In FY 2002, those top 20 contractors received over 40% of the $244 billion in total contracts awarded by the federal government. For each of those contractors, POGO's investigation documented campaign contributions, lobbying expenditures, government contract awards, and examples of federal officials moving through the revolving door to those companies. POGO's report provides individual profiles of each company. The primary findings include:

  • By examining corporate press releases and filings, POGO identified 291 instances involving 224 high-ranking government officials who shifted into the private sector to serve as lobbyists, board members or executives of the contractors. POGO found that at least one-third of the high-ranking former government employees who went to work for or to serve on the board of a government contractor were in agency positions allowing them to influence government contracting decisions.

  • At least two-thirds of the former Members of Congress who are lobbying or have lobbied for the top 20 government contractors served on Authorization or Appropriations Committees that approved programs or funds for their future employer or client while they served in Congress. Those committees include: Armed Services, Appropriations, Intelligence, Ways and Means, and Commerce. Since 1997, Lockheed Martin - the contractor receiving the most federal award dollars - has hired twice as many former Members of Congress as the next closest contractor.

  • In the last three completed election cycles and the current cycle (as of December 2003), the top 20 contractors, and their employees, made $46 million in campaign contributions and spent almost $400 million on lobbying. Their political expenditures have helped to fuel $560 billion in federal contracts. Since 1997, the contractors have spent (on average) 8 cents on campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures for every $100 they have received from the federal government in contract awards. Of course, not all money spent on lobbying and political contributions can be directly tied to government contracts.

At the same time, revolving door protections are weakest against abuse by high-level officials. Two of POGO's recommendations would, if implemented, correct flaws in the system, which led to high-profile revolving door scandals in recent years:

  • Prohibit, for a specified period of time, political appointees and Senior Executive Service policy makers (people who develop rules and determine requirements) from being able to seek employment from contractors who significantly benefited from the policies formulated by the government employee.

  • Close the loophole allowing former government employees to work for a different department or division of a contractor from the division that they oversaw as a government employee. That loophole allowed Darleen Druyun to land a well-paid position at Boeing after currying favor with the company for many years in her capacity as a Pentagon procurement official.

POGO makes 11 additional recommendations that would correct other revolving door weaknesses.

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO's investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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