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Letter from Open Government Groups to Senate Armed Services Committee re. Nomination of William J. Lynn III

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January 23, 2009
Project on Government Oversight

Honorable Carl Levin, Chairman
U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services
228 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Honorable John McCain, Ranking Member
U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services
228 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Levin and Senator McCain,

The undersigned groups commends you, Chairman Levin, for your decision to wait to evaluate the impact of President Obama’s new revolving door restrictions requiring appointees to recuse themselves from work related to their former employer or clients, as well as from matters or issues for which he lobbied. Proceeding with the nomination of William J. Lynn III, a former Raytheon Company lobbyist, to the position of Deputy Secretary of Defense clearly violates President Obama’s Executive Order (EO). We believe your cautious approach is an important exercise of congressional oversight. Upon reviewing the President’s just released EO and its waiver provisions we urge you to go one step further and reject the nomination of Mr. Lynn.

This letter is not to suggest that Mr. Lynn is not qualified for the position. Before the President issued his Ethics Commitment by Executive Branch Personnel Executive Order, there would have been little ground for questioning the proposed nomination of Mr. Lynn. However, given that the new pledge required by President Obama is written to preclude any appointee from participating “in any particular matter on which I lobbied within the 2 years before the date of my appointment,” or accepting “employment with any executive agency that I lobbied within the 2 years before the date of my appointment,” the undersigned groups believe that Mr. Lynn simply could not effectively serve as the Deputy  Secretary of Defense.

As the EO is written, a waiver can only be issued for Mr. Lynn if “the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, or his or her designee, certifies in writing (i) that the literal application of the restriction is inconsistent with the purposes of the restriction, or (ii) that it is in the public interest to grant the waiver.” The EO then goes on to define the public interest to “include, but not be limited to, exigent circumstances relating to national security or to the economy. De minimis contact with an executive agency shall be cause for a waiver of the restrictions.”  Furthermore, Congress should inquire into whether Lynn ever lobbied the Department of Defense. It is hard to see how Mr. Lynn’s nomination would meet the spirit of these standards for a waiver.

USASpending.gov reports that Mr. Lynn’s former employer–the Raytheon Company–was the fourth largest contractor for the Department of Defense in FY2008, receiving over $10 billion in contracts with all three military services. Moreover, his lobbying disclosure forms reveal that he was part of a lobbying team on budget and appropriations issues, including the Department of Defense Appropriations Bill, acquisition policy, missile defense, and Foreign Military Financing. As a result, the nomination causes an impossible conflict: confirming Mr. Lynn as Deputy Secretary of Defense, waiving him from the ethics standards, would be a frontal violation of the revolving door reforms; yet confirming him without a waiver and requiring him to recuse himself from matters that affect Raytheon would make it impossible for him to effectively  serve in his position.

Although the undersigned had hoped for a proven reformer to become the number two person at the Pentagon, Mr. Lynn’s lack of such a record was not cause for objecting to his confirmation. The questions raised at Mr. Lynn’s confirmation hearing made clear that the committee is well aware of how desperately the Department of Defense is in need of reform.

However, Mr. Lynn’s responses to Senator Claire McCaskill’s questions about his second problematic turn through the revolving door do nothing to assuage the concerns she raised. Mr. Lynn’s response was that he will simply follow the letter of the law.

Senator McCain, you have a long record of raising concerns about the negative impact of the revolving door between the defense industry and public service. You have repeatedly introduced measures in the annual National Defense Authorization Act to track the movement of public officials moving through the revolving door, successfully passing a measure to require disclosure in the FY08 Defense Authorization bill.

We fully endorse President Obama’s new ethics standards regarding the revolving door. It is for that reason that we do not want those standards undermined or compromised by the confirmation of Mr. Lynn. Given the urgent need for reform at the Pentagon, and the significant conflict Mr. Lynn faces as a former Raytheon lobbyist, the following groups urge the Committee to reject the nomination of Mr. Lynn.

Sincerely,

Project On Government Oversight (POGO)
Danielle Brian, Executive Director

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)
Melanie Sloan, Executive Director

Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW)
Tom Schatz, President

Government Accountability Project (GAP)
Mark Cohen, Executive Director

Public Citizen
Craig Holman, Legislative Representative

Source URL: http://www.pogo.org/pogo-files/letters/government-corruption/gc-rd-20090123.html