How Some Retired Military Officers Became Well-Paid Consultants

In 2008, he was paid $133,787 in stock and fees to serve on the board of Point Blank Solutions, which sells body armor to the Marines, securities records show.

There was no conflict of interest, he says, because he played no role in the Marines buying from Point Blank, whose board he left in June.

"My role as a board member did not involve selling or marketing," he says.

Others, who are full-time consultants or employees of defense firms, spend just a few weeks a year mentoring. Retired Adm. Robert Natter, who commanded the Atlantic fleet from 2000-03, is a senior mentor and helps lead a U.S. Pacific Command war games exercise each year in Taiwan, he says. The military did not disclose his pay for mentoring.

Natter, 64, is a registered lobbyist for the city of Jacksonville, Fla., who lobbies the Navy and Defense Department on military basing issues, Senate lobbying records show.

He is also a defense consultant and a board member of weapons-maker BAE Systems. From 2004 through 2006, his firm received $1.5 million from the state of Florida to lobby the Navy and Congress on base-closing decisions, federal lobbying records show.

Natter declined to discuss the full list of his clients, saying, "It's my business, not your business." The website for his consultancy, R.J. Natter & Associates, says clients have included Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, IBM and Embraer North America.

"The reality is that you know that the people in the room are not stupid," he says, when asked how he juggles potential conflicts of interests while mentoring. "And secondly, you very seldom get into specific systems of ships or tanks or things like that."

Natter was a mentor last year on a Marine exercise designed to explore how to build bases using ships at sea. In 2006, a BAE executive told Defense Daily the company was developing a close-range gun that could be mounted on ships used for what is known as sea basing. The system is still in development, BAE spokesman Scott Fazekas says.

Natter says he is unaware of any specific products by BAE or any of his consulting clients related to sea basing.

"The taxpayers are getting a steal," Natter says about his mentor pay.

A game with few rules

Private defense companies have long been hiring retired senior officers to help them do business with the military, and Congress periodically has sought to regulate the practice.

Post-Watergate ethics laws prohibited senior government officials from immediately lobbying their former agencies. A decade later, amid a massive Pentagon bribery scandal, Congress strictly regulated the purchasing system to insulate it from outside influence.

Nevertheless, access and insider knowledge are still prized. A Government Accountability Office report last year found that as of 2006, defense contractors employed 2,435 former generals, admirals, senior executives, contracting officers or others in acquisition positions senior enough to be subject to lobbying rules.

Retired generals and admirals, like other senior government officials, are barred from representing companies before their agency for a year after leaving office. They are prohibited for life from representing a company about a particular matter they worked on, such as a specific contract. After a year, however, they are free to lobby their former colleagues on new matters.

The U.S. government, and the Pentagon specifically, also has ethics rules for hiring consultants.

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