Donald Trump famously promised to “drain the swamp” in Washington—to rein in lobbyists, shut the revolving door and curb the influence of well-heeled special interests. But so far, he’s had a hard time keeping this promise, with Wall Street veterans headed to the Treasury Department, coal industry advocates appointed to safeguard the environment, and now a former nuclear weapons industry consultant named to a job overseeing the purchase of such weapons.
Trump’s nominees for Army secretary and Navy secretary have both recently stepped aside because of concerns over how those jobs might conflict with their private business interests. But he’s designated as the new Air Force secretary a former New Mexico Congresswoman, Heather Wilson, who’s a veteran of wheeling and dealing in Washington on behalf of private defense industry clients that paid her lucrative consulting fees.
Just a day after she left Congress in 2009, Wilson went to work as a “strategic adviser” for Sandia Corporation in Albuquerque, which runs a laboratory that helps design and manufacture America’s nuclear weapons and is a subsidiary of defense giant Lockheed Martin. The contract to run Sandia was coming to an end, and Wilson’s assignment was to convince the government to extend it without competition. Soon after, she took on a similar advising role for contractors running Los Alamos National Lab, another designer and maker of nuclear bombs.
But federal auditors at the Energy Department and one of its subsidiary agencies quickly grew alarmed because Wilson refused to account for how she was spending any of her time, even while accepting $20,000 monthly from the national labs. That prompted one auditor to call a fraud hotline operated by the Justice Department, which then kicked off an investigation of its own.
The Justice probe concluded that the payments to Wilson were part of an improper effort by the Lockheed subsidiary to bill the government for money spent lobbying the government for more business. The Lockheed Martin subsidiary settled those allegations in 2015 by paying the government $4.7 million, but denied any wrongdoing. So did Wilson.
But now, if Wilson is confirmed, she’ll be responsible for overseeing the Air Force’s voluminous interactions with Lockheed — the same firm that paid her $226,378 for two years of “strategic advising.”
And Lockheed is not just another contractor. As of 2015, the latest year available, Lockheed had 3,982 outstanding Air Force contracts worth $7.4 billion — making it the largest single contractor to the Air Force. One of the biggest of those contracts involves the F-35 fighter jet, a plane that has been plagued by massive cost overruns and technical snafus.
Critics have argued that some parts of the F-35 program should be put out for competitive bid, an idea that Lockheed has resisted. “Competition is not in the best interest of the government,” Wilson told Sandia and Lockheed officials to tell Washington policymakers in July 2009, according to a copy of one of her emails. (end of excerpt)
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