One of the common frustrations cited in discussions of uniformed military leadership is the blatant conflict of interest represented by Admirals and Generals who retire and then take positions on the boards of defense industry companies. It doesn’t take much imagination to see the conflict of interest. Is an Admiral more or less likely to be offered a lucrative board position if he supports the company’s product offering while he is in active service? Of course he’ll be more likely to get a position if he supports the product! Unfortunately, that lessens the likelihood that he’ll kill flawed programs while actively serving.
Our uniformed leaders are intense pressure from the defense industry and Congressmen who have a vested interest in the manufacturing/jobs opportunities of defense programs as it is. To add on the pressure of prospective board positions is asking a lot of our leaders. Well, actually, it’s not. It’s just asking that they act with honor, integrity, and courage – you know, the kind of stuff that’s routinely expected from the job position. Clearly, though, we have far too few men of honor, integrity, and courage in the upper ranks since we have lots of flawed programs and almost no uniformed nay-sayers. Once in a while we get an Admiral or General who speaks out about something – after they retire! What good does that do? Where were these people while they were still serving? I give no credit to someone who speaks out after they retire. That’s just a lack of courage and conviction.
All right, I could rant on about this all day but the problem is evident and further complaining won’t accomplish anything. So, what can realistically be done? Sure, I’d like to fire every serving Admiral and General but that’s not realistic. Plus, more would take their place and the problem would continue. I’d like to investigate and arrest them all but, again, that’s not realistic although it would be effective. So, what can be done?
One simple solution is to ban Admirals and Generals from joining defense industry companies. There is precedent, of a sorts, for this. In industry, mid and upper level employees have to sign a non-compete clause as a condition of their employment. The non-compete document prohibits them from working in the same field for which they are currently working for a period of time, typically one to several years. Thus, an employee can’t join a company, accumulate detailed technical knowledge about a product, and then quit and go work for a competitor for more money and do the same job.
A similar non-compete clause for Admirals and Generals would ban them from working for defense companies and eliminate the conflict of interest while serving. They’ll still be under pressure from defense companies but at least there won’t be the lure of lucrative board positions to influence their decisions. Maybe then, bad programs will be more likely to die.
Will this solve all our procurement problems? No, not by a long shot! It will, however, eliminate one obvious problem and at no cost. It’s a simple document that Admirals and Generals would have to sign as a condition of employment and it’s realistic and easy to implement. It would be step in the right direction.