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Report: U.S. should close 'revolving door'

By
THOM J. ROSE, UPI Correspondent

WASHINGTON, June 29 (UPI) -- A report released Tuesday by the Project on Government Oversight calls for major changes to keep government employees from going to work for contractors affected by their official decisions, but some analysts say the system works just fine as it is.

The report issued by the watchdog group indicates that 224 former government officials and members of Congress have passed through what it calls the "revolving door" between government work and positions at top government contractors since 1997.

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"Over the years, the revolving door has become an accepted and unchallenged practice in Washington," POGO General Counsel Scott Amey told United Press International.

The report presents POGO's analysis of data culled from corporate press releases and filings from January 1997 to May 2004.

It lists five examples of potential conflicts of interest, one of which -- the high-profile case of Darleen Druyun, who managed Air Force weapons acquisition while pursuing a job with Boeing -- resulted in a criminal conviction.

Amey said there are problems with the frequency with which government officials -- often those charged with awarding government contracts or setting policies relevant to contractors -- go on to work for the companies their government work affected.

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"It creates the public perception that the federal government does not have an arm's-length relationship with its contractors," Amey said.

The Druyun incident has drawn attention to that relationship and employees' movement between the federal government and federal contractors.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is expected to hold hearings on the subject in mid-July.

In Druyun's case, the government-contractor relationship did prove illegal. While Druyun was negotiating a nearly $30 billion government lease deal with Boeing, she was simultaneously negotiating the details of her future employment with the company.

Industry groups say Druyun's misconduct is an isolated case, however, and does not indicate a wider problem.

"I think the whole point of the POGO report was based around the transgressions of one individual," Lockheed Martin Spokesman Tom Jurkowsky told UPI.

Jurkowsky, who had a 31-year military career himself before coming to Lockheed Martin, said the company has strict procedures to make sure none of its public-sector hires represents a conflict of interest.

"The policies are in place," he said. "They are there. We know that they're there. They're certainly more than sufficient.

"Even if the hiring of an individual (only) gives the appearance of impropriety, you just don't go through with it," Jurkowsky added.

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Amey said current safeguards are insufficient, however, and called for legal changes to correct the problem.

The POGO report recommends 13 changes it says would reduce the potential for future abuses like Druyun's.

"Legal loopholes need to be closed, conflicts of interest and ethics laws need to be simplified, and the entire process needs to be open to public scrutiny," Amey said.

A major change recommended in the report would be to regulate senior policymakers -- not just lower officials directly involved in contracting. It says Congress should prohibit political appointees and senior executive service policymakers from seeking employment from government contractors "who significantly benefited from the policies formulated by the government employee."

Amey said it is important to extend rules currently applied to lower employees to those at the top.

"'Revolving door' laws really don't apply to some of your senior policymakers," Amey said, adding that some of the officials not covered by the laws can be most useful to industry for their powerful connections.

However, Jon Etherton, vice president of legislative affairs at the industry group Aerospace Industries of America, said that changes to include higher-level employees would result in extremely complex and ungainly legislation.

"I don't know how you could craft a legal standard to accomplish that," Etherton said.

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He said POGO's calls for greater simplification could not be reconciled with such a broad new standard.

"There was a major effort undertaken to come up with a clear, simple statute in 1996," Etherton said. "The report doesn't advance clear evidence that there is a need for a fundamental change in the current laws, given the difficulties and complexities that would be brought into any change in that direction."

Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., has worked to introduce legislation to regulate more closely federal employees' movement to federal contractors but has had little success so far.

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(Please send comments to nationaldesk@upi.com.)

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