The cozy relationship between defense contractors and the Pentagon bureaucrats who parcel out defense contracts is perhaps the longest-running and least-noticed scandal in Washington. And with President Trump and the Republican Congress determined to ramp up defense spending, the relationship is getting cozier than ever.
The Hill newspaper reports this morning that Mark Esper, the president’s nominee to be secretary of the Army, made more than $1.5 million over the last 12 months as a lobbyist for Raytheon, the Pentagon’s fourth largest supplier of weapons and other equipment.
The company manufactures radars, sonars and a variety of electronic equipment used by the military. It made nearly $22.4 billion off its Pentagon business last year.
Esper has been at Raytheon since 2010; before that, he was a lobbyist for the Aerospace Industries Association, a trade group that lobbies for aircraft manufacturers, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He is Trump’s third nominee for Army secretary; two earlier choices withdrew before the Senate could act on their nominations.
Esper’s financial disclosure form, filed as part of the confirmation process, said he was "[r]esponsible for company interactions with members of Congress and their staff at the Federal level and with all state and local elected officials and their staff." The $1.5 million in salary and benefits he reported did not include deferred compensation worth up to $6 million.
Esper is far from alone among Trump’s choices for top defense jobs in his ties to military contractors. Ryan McCarthy, the president’s choice to be Esper’s top deputy as undersecretary of the Army, took that job after serving as a vice president of Lockheed Martin, the Pentagon’s largest supplier of weapons and equipment.
Lockheed Martin’s revenue from military sales last year topped $43 billion, accounting for 92 percent of the company’s receipts, according to figures compiled by Defense News, a trade publication.
As they negotiate future weapons purchases for the Army, Esper and McCarthy will report to Ellen Lord, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition. Confirmed by the Senate on Aug. 1, Lord left her post as CEO of Textron Systems, which did $4.4 billion in Defense Department business last year, to take the Pentagon job.
And Lord’s boss in the defense bureaucracy will be another defense industry alumnus, Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan. He moved into the Pentagon’s number two job after a 30-year career at Boeing, the second largest defense contractor with nearly $30 billion in military revenue last year.
While Trump is filling top defense jobs with industry veterans, company executives have been complaining for months about the president’s slow pace in choosing his team. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson was not confirmed until July and Navy Secretary Richard Spencer moved into his job only this month. Army Secretary-designate Esper has yet to have a confirmation hearing.
Sen. John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a sometime Trump critic, said last month that “I’m not going to give [the president] a team that I think is business as usual.” Despite that promise, it’s hard to envision Trump’s choices for the military bureaucracy joining in any effort to “drain the swamp” at the Pentagon.
Office: Common Cause National