Army Secretary Mark Esper received scrutiny from members of the Senate Armed Services Committee over his past experience as a lobbyist for top defense contractor Raytheon [RTN] during his July 16 confirmation hearing as the Secretary of Defense nominee.
Presidential hopeful and committee member Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) used her time to question Esper on whether he would recuse himself from all matters related to Raytheon should he be confirmed to the position, which he refused to do, although he pledged to abide by an ethics and screening agreement.
His current ethics agreement, released June 24, claims that for two years beginning when he assumed the Army Secretary position in November 2017, he is disqualified from participating in any matters concerning Raytheon, unless an “appropriate waiver” is distributed.
Esper also refused to commit to Warren’s request that he refrain from rejoining the defense industry upon his eventual departure from the Defense Department. Warren said his nomination “smacks of corruption, plain and simple.”
“He is not willing to make a commitment that he will not engage in conflicts of interest from when he was a lobbyist,” she added.
Esper, who worked at Raytheon from 2010 to 2017, defended himself and invoked his past experience as a West Point graduate and Army officer, noting that he had several times refused more lucrative opportunities to pursue public service.
“I think the presumption is for some reason, anybody who comes from the business or the corporate world is corrupt,” he said, adding that former President Obama had nominated Bill Lynn, another erstwhile Raytheon employee, to become his deputy secretary of defense in 2009.
Lynn was Raytheon’s senior vice president of government operations and strategy beginning in 2002; before that, he served in the Clinton administration as the Pentagon’s comptroller from 1997 to 2001. He currently is CEO of Leonardo DRS.
While Warren provided the most aggressive line of questioning on Esper’s past as a defense lobbyist, several other SASC members, including Republican Sens. Dan Sullivan (Alaska) and Tom Cotton (Ark.) also made sure to emphasize that they took his expected compliance with the ethics agreement seriously.
Former Acting Defense Secretary and Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan received similarly skeptical treatment over his past experience at Boeing [BA] from the late SASC Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) during his confirmation hearing to become the Pentagon’s number-two civilian (Defense Daily, June 20, 2017).
While Esper’s nomination is expected to pass the Senate, Warren’s explicit opposition may slow down the process. The current chairman, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), has expressed a desire to get Esper’s nomination onto the Senate floor for a vote by the end of this week.