January 27th, 2009
02:15 PM ET
9 years ago

Gates: Ethics reform has a cost

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/01/27/art.gates1.gi.jpg caption="Gates is testifying on the Hill Tuesday."]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."

Filed under: Robert Gates
soundoff (55 Responses)
  1. Mark NJ

    Hey...60,000 peole just got layed off this month. I 'm sure thbeir is some excellant candidates there!

    January 27, 2009 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  2. Sammy

    There is nothing inherently wrong with hiring someone from inside a business or otherwise. How about hiring a PETA lobyist for some position or other. Is that bad? I'm sure quite a few against Lynn would be for this idea. Setting aside such problems all depend on what people think they will get out of it. The only catch is to keep a close eye on their jobs to make sure everything they do is open for others to examine and/or object to.

    January 27, 2009 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  3. undecided

    two things that politicians don't have ethics and intelligence.

    January 27, 2009 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  4. Southern Princess

    I'm not buying this BS. There's gotta be clean people without ties to lobbyist able and capable of doing the jobs our country needs done. Now find them, hire them, and make them be transparent.

    January 27, 2009 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  5. Allen

    Heck, I'd be happy with a Commcerce Secretary who WILLINGLY pays his taxes.

    January 27, 2009 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  6. LarryS

    So much for honesty in politics. Oops I used both of those words in the same sentence didn't I?

    January 27, 2009 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  7. Donna A. Reuter, Bremerton, WA

    Secretary Gates,

    If you want ensure that our nation has the best people to serve in the military, stop the discrimination against gays who want to serve. They have the skills that our national security needs.

    January 27, 2009 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  8. Todd

    It doesn't matter that it doesn't make any sense!! He only said it to get his "sheep" to vote for him and get him into office! Now that he's there – to quote Pres Obama – "It's still business as usual!"

    January 27, 2009 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  9. Strange

    How is hiring 'inexperienced' people an issue?

    So what Gates is saying is, if we want a government that can run itself we have to put corrupt people into positions of power? Maybe Mr. Gates needs to be checked for HIS ties to outside corporations...

    How about we put ethical people in positions of power and get rid of dinosaurs like Gates...

    January 27, 2009 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  10. Dont blame me

    Ethics problems haven't stopped Obama, just look at how he has appointed thus far; Geithner a CROOK and Holder someone who helped PARDON a crook.

    January 27, 2009 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  11. go away mongers -Ventura ca

    Come on folks- it's been a WEEK since President Obama took Office, and we're being told by a hold-over from the last adminstration that our Ethics is costly.
    'The last eight years Ethics went out the window and look how we ended up- Costly, indeed.
    'Perhaps the Secretary has a short memory or is just stuck in the GOP mode of doing things. Hey Gates- it's a new day and we need CHANGE!

    January 27, 2009 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  12. Veteran in Kansas

    There once was a time in our nations history where Military Officiers oversaw the acquisition process for the military. Granted it had it's flaws. R&D monies went to those programs that were actually wanted bythe services. Those that would be using the systems set forth the specfications that they determined the systems would be needed to meet. Experts in acquistion were developed over a 20-30 year procress, mentored by those more experinced and the system worked quit well, other than having to explain to Congress that for the most part Congressional mandates were the reasons for cost overruns or unneeded systems that were being devloped in a Congressmans districrt burt were unneeded.

    Civilian oversight of the military, yes, but not civilian interferance into what systems are needed by the military to accomplish its multiple missions.

    After all who is better to know the needs of the military, to know what a military system needs to do, who know what systems are needed than someone from the manufacturing sector trying to sell their products?

    January 27, 2009 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  13. Baze

    The Air Force has suffered from leaders with no vision and now they are grossly inept for 21st century combat. They've wasted the past twenty years preparing for war with a superpower, and now with the exception of unmanned fighters (most UAV belong to the CIA anyway) they have offered little use in the War on Terror. Bunch of useless glory boys I tell ya

    January 27, 2009 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  14. Obama 2.0

    Actually the cost Gates is speaks of is temporary, the cost of not being ethical is what we inherited from the Bush years.

    January 27, 2009 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  15. boered1

    What a fool!!! Okay folks let me give you a QUICK lesson... there is a difference between people who have experiance with a product or a company gettting hired and someone who has LOBBIED for a product getting hired. The CEO of my company LOBBIES Washington, has hired a lobbiest to work Washington HE should not get a job in Washington. MY BOSS, who I would argue, UNDERSTANDS our product in significantly more detail than our CEO has NOT LOBBIED Washington, has never KNOWINGLY paid a lobbiest to lobby Washington (I say knowingly because who knows what corporations do in our names!) he SHOULD be aqble to work in our Government. See the difference? The problem is Washington has become so dependant not on real information,but on contacts/relationships that they have forgotten that it is knowledge not friends that make things work, President Obama (I LOVE saying that!) is trying to replace connections with knowledge and this bozo cannot seem to grasp that significant core ideal!


    January 27, 2009 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  16. teacheng

    I don't see a problem with this. Make Lynn sign a legal document swearing off any form of lobbying after he leaves Defense.

    January 27, 2009 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  17. Howard

    He must be joking. Look where the experienced people have got us!?!?! The previous administrations have had their cronies running the show and nothing but bad things have happened. Now we are left with crippling debt and two wars. I'll bet Halliburton and all the government contractor that received no bid contracts are reporting great earnings over the last few years. They have been pretty quiet recently. As far as I am concerned we should clean house of both republicans and democrats and institute term limits. The founding father could not have wanted jokers like these current elected officials to make careers out of jobs in Washington. I can't help but think they wanted talented people to serve their country for a short time and return to their life outside of the government. The current situation is really sad, pathetic even. How long are we going to let these criminals and perverts run our country.

    January 27, 2009 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  18. David Vancvouer, WA

    this statement that if you are not ethical one cannot be in office is just what pepole of this counrty are tired of.
    One an be ethical and hold a government position, in fact I would bet the people would have more respect for one whom is ethical more than one who is in it for the money.

    January 27, 2009 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  19. Diane Dagenais Turbide

    The transparency issue of individuals with private sector experience which rightfully so can greatly be beneficial to the government would not be a problem if there is transparency at time of attribution of any contracts. Bottom line, this is what taxpayers have the right to know that their tax dollars does not privilege the same companies and if it does favor the same company at least government has to have in place a system with an open process that clearly justifies its decisions with explanations and proof of submissions that shows how no other companies were qualified for a specific contract.

    January 27, 2009 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  20. Michael G -Ventura ca

    Considering the "Ethics" of the last administration–the costly price is worth it. All the so-called "experts" in the bush administration was very "COSTLY" to this Nation!

    January 27, 2009 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  21. mike

    Mr Gates wants to waive ethical concerns in order to hire a qualified person. Adolf Eichmann was very qualified for his job but had no ethics. There were very qualified individuals who worked for Enron, but again lacked ethics. Sometimes havinf ability is not the best choice for a job. The neo-cons in the Bush administration were qualified and they got us into the Iraq fiasco at the cost of many lives. President Obama campaigned with ethical reform as a major plank, he needs to live up to his promise.

    January 27, 2009 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  22. Vic of New York

    To some extent, Gates has a point - I've been aghast at the scinics who have criticized the exceptions Obama has made regarding lobbyists in his administration.

    That said – the veritable revolving door to personal profits promoted by the Bush administration is a true scandal and diservice to our country.

    To Gates' remarks: Let's not forget, Lobbyists are not Project Managers or administrators – they are salesmen. We can afford to look elsewhere for management experience.

    January 27, 2009 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  23. Putin still invading Alaskan airspace between Palin's ears

    Mr. Gates, I'll cut you some slack as you recover from your Bush/Cheney hangover. However, just a reference point for you in the future once you do recover: You can't put a price on ethics.

    January 27, 2009 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  24. Griff

    Better, Ethics-Debate now, than Head-Ache's Later?

    January 27, 2009 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  25. Moderates Unite!

    This is a very common situation in the Defense Industry...senior officials in the DoD are actively pursued for leadership positions within defense contractors once they leave the public sector...this naturally can present conflicts of interest; however the cost of prohibiting this type of activity is that the industrial base will be deprived of many qualified and capable leaders which has negative impacts ultimately.

    January 27, 2009 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
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