President Donald Trump has weaponized the revolving door by appointing defense contractors and their lobbyists to key government positions as he seeks to rapidly expand the military budget and homeland security programs.
Two Department of Homeland Security appointments Trump announced Tuesday morning are perfect examples.
Benjamin Cassidy, installed by Trump as assistant secretary for legislative affairs, previously worked as a senior executive at Boeing’s international business sector, marketing Boeing military products abroad. Jonathan Rath Hoffman, named assistant secretary for public affairs, previously worked as a consultant to the Chertoff Group, the sprawling homeland security consulting firm founded by former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff. The firm has come under fire for advising a variety of firms seeking government contracts, including for full-body scanners deemed invasive by privacy activists. Hoffman also led a state chapter of a neoconservative military-contractor advocacy organization during the 2016 presidential campaign. Neither position requires Senate confirmation.
Personnel from major defense companies now occupy the highest ranks of the administration including cabinet members and political appointees charged with implementing the Trump agenda. At least 15 officials with financial ties to defense contractors have been either nominated or appointed so far, with potentially more industry names on the way as Trump has yet to nominate a variety of roles in the government, including Army and Navy secretaries.
Before their confirmations, Jim Mattis and John Kelly, the secretaries of the departments of Defense and Homeland Security, were primarily paid by defense firms.
Mattis was paid $242,000, along with up to $500,000 in vested stock options, as director of General Dynamics, a company that produces submarines, tanks, and a range of munitions for the military. Mattis also received speaking fees from several firms, including Northrop Grumman. Kelly previously served in a number of roles at defense contracting consulting and lobbying firms and worked directly as an adviser to Dyncorp, a company that contracts with the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.
Defense firms have eagerly watched as Trump recently unveiled a budget calling for $54 billion in additional military spending next year, as well as an additional $30 billion for the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security for this fiscal year, which ends on September 31. About $15.5 billion of the $30 billion is slated to be spent on new military equipment.
The spending spree will provide a brand new opportunity for defense lobbyists to get business for their clients. And the most effective lobbying generally involves contacting former colleagues in positions of power.
Major lobbying groups for the arms companies, including the National Defense Industrial Association and the Aerospace Industries Association, welcomed the selection of Secretary Mattis, who has already scheduled meetings with industry executives. Secretary Kelly has pledged to work more closely with the private sector, promising greater collaboration with private firms to accomplish his agency’s goals.
To carry out this private-sector friendly agenda, defense officials have taken major roles throughout Trump’s administration.
Pat Shanahan, nominated last week by Trump to serve as deputy secretary of defense, is a vice president at Boeing who formerly led the company’s missile defense subsidiary. Disclosures show that Elaine Duke, the nominee for deputy secretary of homeland security, previously consulted for Booz Allen Hamilton, General Dynamics, and the Columbia Group, a small contractor that builds unmanned naval drones.
The nominee to lead the Air Force, former New Mexico Congresswoman Heather Wilson, worked as a consultant to a Lockheed Martin subsidiary after retiring from public office. The company sought Wilson’s help to maintain a $2.4 billion a year contract to manage Sandia National Laboratories, the premiere nuclear weapons research facility, and to keep the contract closed to competition. “Lockheed Martin should aggressively lobby Congress, but keep a low profile,” Wilson urged the company in a memo revealed later by an inspector general report.
Trump’s pick for national security council chief of staff, retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, has worked at a variety of defense contracting companies. After serving in senior roles in Iraq’s provisional government after the 2003 invasion, Kellogg left the government for the private sector. He told the Washington Post in 2005 that he joined Oracle to “establish a homeland security business unit” at the firm, and later joined CACI International, a company with major contracts in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Following CACI, Kellogg joined Cubic Defense in 2009 to develop the company’s combat training business.
A list of temporary political appointees recently published by ProPublica reveals a number of less-known influence peddlers who have taken senior roles in the administration.
Chad Wolf and Lora Ries, two recently appointed advisers at the Department of Homeland Security, are formerly registered defense lobbyists. Wolf lobbied for Harris Corp. and the United Launch Alliance, a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Ries previously lobbied for a range of defense and homeland security contractors, including Altegrity, Boeing, Implant Sciences Corp., General Dynamics, L1 Identity Solutions, and TASC Inc.
In the White House, one of the newest members of the National Economic Council staff is Michael Catanzaro, formerly a registered lobbyist working for both Boeing and Halliburton.
Palanatir Technology’s Justin Mikolay, formerly a chief in-house lobbyist for the company who worked to win over billions of dollars in Army contracts, was quietly appointed to serve as a special assistant in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
Several appointees are associated with SBD Advisors, a consulting that firm that advertises its ability to facilitate “engagements between the technology and defense sectors,” and is advised by a high profile team of former government leaders, including former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff retired Adm. Mike Mullen and former National Security Agency Director of Operations Ron Moultrie.
SBD Advisors’d Sally Donnelly and Tony DeMartino work as temporary political appointees at the Office of the Defense Secretary, according to the list assembled by ProPublica. Kristan King Nevins, recently appointed as chief of staff to Second Lady Karen Pence, also previously worked at SBD Advisors as the director of communications.
The Trump administration is the “military-industrial complex personified,” said William Hartung, director of the Arms & Security Project at the Center for International Policy. Hartung noted that while the administration is bringing arms industry officials into government, it is also demanding a massive increase in military spending and appears to be escalating conflicts in Syria and Yemen.
“In short, the Trump proposals are an armsmaker’s dream come true,” he said.