WASHINGTON (CNN) - Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday the continued push to make sure administration officials and government employees do not have ties to private industry has a cost - the inability to find experienced people to fill important jobs.
Ethics efforts, at times, mean "we're cutting off our nose to spite our face" in terms of being able to hire qualified people, Gates said as he appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Earlier, he noted that the Department of Defense operates with vacancies in "key acquisition positions ranging from 13 percent in the Army to 43 percent in the Air Force."
"Thus, the situation we face today, where a small set of expensive weapons programs has had repeated and unacceptable problems with requirements, schedule costs and performance. The list spans the services," he said.
Gates said he was not trying to criticize the recent executive orders from President Barack Obama that sought to limit lobbyists who enter government from working on business associated with their previous employment.
"Last thing I would do is criticize the ethics executive order that the new president has just signed," he said. "This is a cumulative problem that has taken place over many, many years."
He said it needs to be asked "if we haven't made it so tough to get people who have the kind of industry experience that allows them to know how to manage an acquisition process to come into government, do public service and then return to their careers."
"It's when you're trying to go after more senior officials, like the senior acquisition executives in each of the services," Gates said.
These people manage billions of dollars, and you need somebody who has real-world experience to be able to make those decisions and those recommendations. And getting people at that level and more senior levels, who have the credentials to be able to do the job, is very tough."
Obama and Gates have been criticized for the nomination of William Lynn, a former Raytheon lobbyist, to the position of deputy defense secretary. The nomination necessitates waiving Lynn from some of the new ethics rules announced in the president's first week. Lynn's nomination is still on hold while the Armed Services Committee gets more information on how those waivers will affect his ability to do the job.
Gates has defended the decision to hire Lynn.
"I asked that an exception be made, because I felt that he could play the role of a deputy in a better manner than anybody else that I saw," Gates said last week.
Without mentioning the Lynn appointment on Tuesday, he again defended the decision.
"My own view is on a lot of these issues transparency is the answer, and the recusal approaches that we have, the president recognized the need for some of these," he said. "To be able to get some of these people, he would need to exercise a waiver, and he provided for that, I think wisely, in the executive order."