GOP Sen. John McCain blasted the White House Tuesday and told the administration to stop staffing the Pentagon with top defense industry executives.
McCain told reporters that additional nominees from any of the five top defense industry firms would have a difficult time getting approval from the Senate Committee on Armed Services (SASC), Defense News reports.
“I said I did not want people from the top five corporations,” McCain said. “We’ve had a couple, and that’s okay, but I don’t want [more of] them.”
Up until this point, the Trump administration has nominated Patrick Shanahan from Boeing for the position of deputy defense secretary, Ellen Lord of Textron Systems for the position of undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, in addition to David Ehrhart for general counsel of the Air Force. Ehrhart previously worked as associate general counsel at Lockheed Martin. While at Lockheed, Ehrhart was in charge of the F-35 program.
Although no announcement has yet been made, it’s expected that John Rood from Lockheed will be tapped for undersecretary of defense for policy.
The first inklings of resistance from McCain appeared during Shanahan’s confirmation hearing in late June, when McCain stated that defense industry executives manning the Pentagon is “not what our Founding Fathers had in mind.”
“I’m disturbed that we are now have an executive from one of the five major corporations that has corralled 90 percent of our defense budgets,” McCain said. “I have to have confidence that the fox is not going to be put back into the henhouse.”
Democratic Sen. John Reed, ranking member of SASC, also warned about the possibility of group think that could take place as a result of too many nominees coming from the same pool.
“If you’re drawing from one sector alone, you get this group-think possibility, which could be dangerous,” Reed said. “I believe these people will scrupulously follow the ethics rules, but it’s hard after working for a major corporation for 30 years to separate the appearance — when you’re making a decision — that you’re being influenced by your prior employment.”
Previous Trump administration nominees for the Pentagon that dropped out of the process also had strong industry connections in their backgrounds. Vincent Viola withdrew after being tapped for secretary of the Army, and Philip M. Bilden withdrew from the position of secretary of the Navy. Officials told The New York Times that Viola found it too difficult to disentangle himself from his extensive business interests. Bilden suffered from the same problem.
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