The Pentagon Isn’t Tracking if Former Employees Violate Revolving Door Laws

Auditors could not even come up with reliable data to make assessments.

The Defense Department is not tracking whether its employees are improperly leaving their government jobs for contractor positions in the private sector, according to a report released Tuesday.

The system for tracking outgoing senior employees who face restrictions in their post-government employment was so poorly maintained, the department’s inspector general said, the auditors could not even report the “reliable quantitative data” required by law. 

While Congress has focused on mitigating undue corporate influence on the Pentagon that results from the revolving door between Defense and the companies with which the department contracts, the Pentagon’s inability to follow the new rules has compromised those efforts.

The reforms trace back to the 2008 Defense Authorization Act, when Congress required senior Defense acquisition officials to seek a “post-employment DoD ethics opinion letter” before taking any pay from a Defense contractor. The contractors were also tasked with verifying any new hire who had worked at Defense within the previous two years acquired such a letter.

In 2011, the department required all Defense organizations to submit those letters, and any corresponding documents, into an online application called the After Government Employment Advice Repository. When asked by Congress last year to report back on the number of opinions written by Defense ethics officials on the limitations former employees would face in their new jobs, the IG found that department entities were blowing past deadlines and failing to process the documents altogether.

Those failures, the IG said, led to a system with no “audit trail” and data that were “incomplete and not credible.”

Used properly, the AGEAR system would guide a former official through questions about their old and new responsibilities, confirm the submission of requests, store the requests, reduce potential errors and omissions and facilitate reports to Congress. Instead, auditors found users were circumventing the system, not entering critical dates, providing opinion letters to former employees without knowing any details of their future job and crafting generic letters not specific to an outgoing official’s new duties.

Outgoing Defense officials are prohibited from conducting certain work on behalf of contractors in which their new job could give the perception of undue influence. Defense ethics employees are therefore required to issue an opinion “regarding the applicability of post-employment restrictions to the activities that the former official is expected to undertake on behalf of the contractor.”

The IG could not track the effectiveness of those efforts, however, as records were missing information such as positions sought by former employees, the descriptions of the positions and the names of the contractors at which the former employee was seeking a job.

The IG told the Pentagon it should prohibit the processing of requests outside the AGEAR system and better enforce the reporting requirements of the revolving door law. That should include more precise dating -- so the IG can determine if the department is complying with timelines required by law -- and all communications between ethics officials and private sector job seekers. The auditors said they would follow up in six months to ensure Defense complied with their recommendations.