USA Today recently published an update to their November 2009 investigation into retired military officers consulting for the Pentagon. At the time, the Defense Department (DoD) wouldn't release a full list of the mentors, but USA Today reporters Tom Vanden Brook, Ken Dilanian and Ray Locker identified 158 of them, and found that 80 percent had financial ties to defense contractors.
In response, Secretary Robert Gates announced an overhaul of the program to be headed by Deputy Secretary William Lynn—who famously was the first appointee to receive a waiver from President Obama's ethics standards. We're still waiting to hear back from the Pentagon as to whether Deputy Secretary Lynn's first year at the Pentagon was in compliance with ethics restrictions required by the Senate Armed Services Committee.
In July, DoD reworked the program, a process that included revising ethics rules to identify conflicts, and last week Deputy Secretary Lynn announced that "in a step toward transparency" they would release the names and roles of the mentors. But apparently, publicly disclosing information regarding potential conflicts is too big of a leap for Pentagon-kind.
USA Today's editorial board appropriately took the Pentagon to task:
In April, Gates said he wanted to promote "public trust and confidence in the integrity" of Pentagon programs. Pay caps that aren't really caps and disclosures that aren't really public won't do it. Retired officers who want to work for taxpayers and make today's military better shouldn't balk at public scrutiny. And neither should the Pentagon. (Emphasis POGO's)
We've heard that the Pentagon is unlikely to change its position. But we'd urge them to reconsider, especially given that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) may soon require its grantees to make similar public disclosures about financial ties to industry. In outlining the reformed policy, Lynn notes that congressional oversight committees can review financial disclosure forms upon request. We hope that Congress—and especially Senators like Jim Webb (D-VA) who expressed concern about this program—will take the Pentagon up on this immediately and consider releasing financial disclosure forms to ensure that taxpayer funds for these mentors are not misplaced.
-- Mandy Smithberger