Elizabeth Warren’s new policy rollout targets Pentagon corruption

Warren has a proposal to end the “revolving door” between defense contractors and the Pentagon.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren wants to bring her long record railing against corporate greed and corruption to the Pentagon.

On Thursday, Warren, who is a member of the Senate Arms Services Committee, unveiled a proposal — yes, another one — with House Arms Services Chair Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) that aims to limit the influence corporations on the government’s defense agenda.

The proposal would essentially establish four-year noncompetes between the Department of Defense and major defense contractors, extend federal open records laws to private defense contracting companies, and limit national security officials from working for foreign governments, according to a blog post Warren published Thursday morning.

Warren is among several progressive 2020 candidates who have called for re-evaluating the nation’s military and defense agenda. When Congress passed one of the biggest defense budgets in modern US history last year with overwhelming bipartisan support, authorizing $716 billion in spending in 2019, Warren was one of 10 senators — along with fellow 2020 Democratic candidates Sens. Bernie Sanders (VT), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Kamala Harris (CA) — who voted against it. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) voted in support.

“It is time to identify which programs actually benefit American security in the 21st century, and which programs merely line the pockets of defense contractors – then pull out a sharp knife and make some cuts,” Warren wrote on Medium about her latest plan. “And while the defense industry will inevitably have a seat at the table, they shouldn’t get to own the table itself.”

But interestingly, Warren herself has been seen as a champion for defense contractors in her own state of Massachusetts, where giants like General Dynamics and Raytheon are major employers and hold billion dollar defense contracts with the federal government. In 2015, Raytheon told Politico that it had a “positive relationship” with Warren, interacted with her staff regularly, and she was said to have been instrumental in fighting back proposed cuts to a General Dynamic contract, which lobbyists in her state said ingratiated the senator to the defense industry, which had supported her Republican opponent in her first race.

This latest proposal is clearly distant from that past record on defense; an attempt at bringing her call for anti-corruption legislation to the often-unchecked world of defense.

What Warren is proposing

Warren is laying out a very clear picture of how she sees the United States’ defense agenda: crafted by corporate lobbyists. Of course, the revolving door between the Pentagon and private defense companies is well-established. Watchdog group Project on Government Oversight found the top 20 defense contractors had hired at least 645 former senior government officials, military officers, lawmakers, and senior legislative staff in 2016; nearly 90 percent of those former federal employees work as lobbyists.

The proposal would do three things to address this:

1) Establish a four-year ban on major defense contractors — like Boeing or Northrop Grumman — from hiring senior Department of Defense officials, or officials that managed those corporation’s contracts after they leave office. The ban goes the other way as well, requiring Department of Defense employees from recusing themselves from any matter that affects their former employee for four years.

2) Add checks on government officials going on to work for foreign governments. In almost a direct call out to Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador, this proposal would require the Secretary of State to directly approve of any senior White House State, Defense, and Treasury officials want to work for a foreign government or non-governmental foreign entity. It also bans all former military and civilian intelligence officers from working for any foreign government.

3) Increase transparency within the Pentagon. The proposal would make private defense contractors subject to federal open records law, which mandates executive branch government agencies to comply with information requests. It would also requires major defense contractors report who they’re lobbying, what they’re lobbying, and make all defense contracts worth more than $10 million public online.

Addressing the Pentagon fits perfectly with Warren’s anti-corruption talking point

The Pentagon is at the center of progressive talking points when it comes to addressing the federal budget. On the 2020 campaign trail, candidates like Warren and Sanders have been on the forefront of this charge, calling for the end to a “military industrial complex,” and cutting wasteful spending that “line the pockets of defense contractors.”

“If more money for the Pentagon could solve our security challenges, we would have solved them by now,” Warren said at a speech at American University on foreign policy.

She added that cutting the defense budget would start by ”ending the stranglehold of defense contractors on our military policy. It’s clear that the Pentagon is captured by the so-called ‘Big Five’ defense contractors-and taxpayers are picking up the bill.”

It goes without saying that none of it will be easy. As Warren knows from her own state, defense contractors represent major economic sectors in many states’ around the country — in part why it has been so hard to curb their influence. Warren’s campaign has not responded to questions about how she would address a spending bill that massively boosted defense spending, like the one Congress passed last year. Sanders stopped short of saying he would refuse to sign such a bill as president, in an interview with Vox.

So far, Warren’s proposal for the Pentagon is an extension of the centerpiece of her campaign: She’s making it part of her larger anti-corruption agenda.