Obama Pentagon Pick Blasted

Ex-lobbyist, defense official criticized for conflicts of interest, record.

ByABC News
January 22, 2009, 2:39 PM

January 22, 2009— -- Experts and watchdogs say they cannot fathom how President Obama's choice for the Pentagon's second-in-command, currently a lobbyist for a defense giant, could be nominated under the principles of his new ethics rules.

"It appears to be a black-and-white case. I am unaware of what makes it so gray in the mind of President Obama," said Winslow T. Wheeler, a former congressional budget staffer now with the Center for Defense Information, on the president's choice of Raytheon lobbyist William J. Lynn to serve as Deputy Secretary of Defense. Wheeler said it would take a "gigantic loophole" to squeeze Lynn, a top executive for defense giant Raytheon who registered to lobby for the company as recently as last June, into the office.

Obama's executive order, which he signed Tuesday, would appear to ban lobbyists like Lynn from working in executive branch jobs related to the work of their former employers. Moreover, it would force appointees to recuse themselves from any business their former employers might have an interest.

"We need to close the revolving door that lets lobbyists come into government freely," Obama said yesterday upon signing the order.

"I think they need to re-evaluate [Lynn's appointment] after their strong stance on government openness and ethics," said Scott Amey, of the Project on Government Oversight. His group opposes Lynn's confirmation.

The criticism appears to have had an impact: while the Senate Armed Services Committee looked poised to approve Lynn's nomination, chairman Carl Levin Thursday said his panel didn't know enough yet.

"Given the President's new stricter rules requiring his appointees to recuse themselves from matters or issues on which they have lobbied, the Senate Armed Services Committee will need further information before proceeding" with Lynn's nomination, Levin said in a statement.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Thursday that "even the toughest rules require reasonable exceptions," and that Lynn was "uniquely qualified. . . to serve the public interest in these critical times."