Friday December 11, 2020
President-elect Joe Biden promises the “most ethically rigorous administration in American history,” according to a spokesman. But with the nomination of retired general and Raytheon board member General Lloyd Austin III as secretary of defense, the strength of that promise is quickly faltering. And while some may see concerns about industry ties as a purity test, we’ve seen that disregard from presidents and Congress for these concerns creates preventable problems and encourages the revolving door between the Pentagon and the defense industry to continue to spin with impunity.
First things first: Secretaries of defense who came from the defense industry were a rarity. As the New York Times recently pointed out, until the Trump administration we hadn’t had a secretary of defense come directly from a major defense contractor for 30 years (going back to the Reagan administration, when Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger came from Bechtel). Presidents seemed to have little trouble finding qualified candidates from Congress, the non-defense business community, or other executive branch offices. That’s one of many reasons it’s so disappointing that the top three names the incoming Biden administration floated to lead the world’s most expensive military sat on boards of major defense contractors.