Pentagon pick shows challenges of Obama's ethics rules

William Lynn's lobbyist experience may help him navigate the industry better, say some.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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    Best man for the job? Deputy Defense secretary nominee William Lynn was a lobbyist for military contractor Raytheon.
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The man President Obama nominated to become the No. 2 manager at the Pentagon isn't the first person for that job to come from the defense industry. But Mr. Obama's own executive order on ethics has now become a stumbling block as the White House seeks to push the former lobbyist through confirmation.

It is likely that William Lynn will be confirmed by the US Senate in the coming days, but his controversial nomination highlights the challenge of finding qualified candidates for government who have not occupied high-level posts in industry.

The alternative, say defense experts, is to pick career bureaucrats or former uniformed officers who may find it harder to deal with the defense industry.

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"Without his industry background, Lynn really wouldn't understand the job he is about to be given," says Loren Thompson, a senior analyst and chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute, a public-policy research group outside Washington. "Understanding weapons production and industrial capabilities is central to the job of being deputy secretary."

Mr. Lynn is a former lobbyist with defense giant Raytheon, which among other programs builds missile and satellite systems. He left that position last year, but Obama's "revolving door ban" bars lobbyists from working in government for two years. Lynn would need a waiver from the ban to take up the post.

Sens. Carl Levin (D) of Michigan and John McCain (R) of Arizona, chair and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee respectively, have expressed concern over Lynn's lobbying background though they are likely to support his nomination. Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa and ranking member on the Senate Committee on Finance, says he is awaiting more information from Lynn before he will support him.

Obama stands behind Lynn, as does Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who said last week he asked for the waiver because Lynn could serve "in a better manner than anybody else that I saw."

The White House Counsel's office is making "arrangements" to ensure Lynn would act impartially, said Mr. Gates.

As deputy secretary, Lynn would run the day-to-day operations at the Pentagon, leaving the more senior-level policy and operational decisions to Gates.

A former Pentagon comptroller and staffer for Sen. Edward Kennedy, Lynn emerged as a top candidate in part because defense experts say it is difficult to find someone who can navigate the defense industry and also be an effective bureaucrat. It can also be tricky to find someone who knows the industry but isn't tainted by it.

If anything, Lynn may overcompensate to avoid any perception of partiality toward his previous employer, says Mr. Thompson. "He will avoid any appearance of impropriety by bending over backwards by not doing anything for Raytheon," he says. "What typically happens is they end up helping their competitors."

The current deputy Defense secretary, Gordon England, used to work at General Dynamics, another firm with which the Pentagon does much business. Mr. England tried to eliminate funding for fighter modernization that would have benefited his former employer, says Thompson.

As overseer of internal policies at the Pentagon, Lynn faces a raft of challenges. He will be charged with reforming defense acquisitions and sign off on major purchases.

He has been asked to provide more data on the programs he has lobbied for as well as the areas he might have to recuse himself if confirmed. That may be problematic because of the inter-related nature of defense spending and policy.

"That is a complicated area because you are predicting something that is hard to predict," Mr. Levin said Friday.

Lynn is not the only nominee with industry ties. Health and Human Services Secretary nominee Tom Daschle was never a registered lobbyist but he has been paid consulting fees by some of the same healthcare groups he would regulate as a member of Obama's cabinet.

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