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. tee

    Look harder, the right person is out there

    January 27, 2009 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |


    January 27, 2009 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  3. yes, sure

    It's IMPOSSIBLE to reconcile the two things–so keep stealing and cheating ...

    January 27, 2009 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  4. Thomas Paine

    Don't blame the problem on the ethics put in place by Obama, put the blame on those who allowed the abuses to take place and the hiring of people who put their interest ahead of the country's.

    January 27, 2009 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  5. Lynn in NM

    I haven't seen any change in ethics. You have a Treasury Secretary that cheated on his income taxes. You have a Secretary of State that is questionable, as well as her husband. Where is the change, or when is it supposed to start?

    January 27, 2009 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  6. Griff

    If you Talk enough Crap about yourself... Listen to that Crap for 24Hrs..
    Your Program'd...

    January 27, 2009 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  7. Matt

    It's not ethics reform that's costing us....it's the loose ethics or even lack thereof that preceded the reform, making it necessary for the reform in the first place and forcing us to pay the price at which that reform may come.

    January 27, 2009 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  8. Fred the moderate

    What's the cost of being ethical? What's the cost for doing the right thing? Now that's a Republican stand point. I knew President Obama was flurting with danger keeping him on. We as Americans are an honest, hard working people that doesn't need to be UNETHICAL – EVER

    January 27, 2009 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  9. Sye the Pychic

    Must be alot of liars,crooks and thieves in the new roman populace?

    January 27, 2009 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  10. Ben - Portland, Or

    There’s a difference between the cronyism of the past 8 years – where unqualified chummy buddies were put into positions to fatten the pockets of everyone they know – and a legitimately qualified person from the private sector. The cold hard facts are: government work doesn’t pay as well as private sector, and the more talented people will wind up in the private sector because that’s where the money is. So if we want the talent, we’ll have to look at people from the private sector.

    January 27, 2009 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  11. GuyInVA

    Don't worry Mr. Secretary. If DoD gets too short-handed, there are plenty of ethics waivers to go around. Does anyone besides me see irony in giving someone a waiver from ETHICS requirements? Not to mention doing it in less than one week in office. He's not really the first ethics waiver. I hear the new Treasury Secretary doesn't have to pay taxes. Nice.

    January 27, 2009 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  12. Steve, Columbia, SC

    That's a crock Mr Gates. I cannot believe there is only one qualified individual for that job.

    January 27, 2009 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  13. Joshua College Station Texas

    So, basically, we have no honest people in the industry. That's depressing.

    January 27, 2009 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  14. Ginger, VA

    well, mr. gates, then maybe those smart people that we need so much should STOP lobbying!

    January 27, 2009 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  15. Jim

    I do not understand how an individual with ethic issues is a qualified candidate

    January 27, 2009 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  16. Billy J


    They can fill those positions, and if they don't like the way the serviceman or citizen is handling the contract they can fire them, it is that simple. But to say we have unfilled positions and that is why we are getting ripped off by a defense contractor, is letting the contractor off the hook for being less than honest or dilligent, and implying that the only people that can do the governments side of the job would have to come from some pool of 'good ol' boys and girls.

    Soooo transparently ridiculous that it actually highlights the problem, it does not in any way make a case for relaxing any rules on lobbying and employment after working for certain parts of the government.

    January 27, 2009 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  17. JEM

    As a career civil servant working in acquisition, the standard I'm held to is "to avoid even the appearance of impropriety." Failure to do so will result in swift and unpleasant consequences for my federal career. Why does this rule never seem to be applied to and enforced for political appointees? Why are excuses always made and infractions ignored? Strict and independent enforcement of the integrity rules on the books might be a good starting point.

    That said, the answer more basically lies in the fundamental principle that the "profit motive" must be replaced by one for the "public good." I have grown old but definitely not rich in holding and honoring my public trust to the taxpayer. Those who don't and then move on from a political appointment to peddle their influence and access for profit are nothing more than sophisticated bandits robbing the U.S.Treasury. Please re-read President Eisenhower's farewell address to the nation on the dangers of the industrial military complex. Finally, contrary to Mr. Gate's views, you don't have to previously have been a "captain of industry" to be a qualified manager in DoD.

    January 27, 2009 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  18. DCWalt

    While I appreciate the Secretary's comments and stand behind them as I do much of what he says, I disagree with this appointment. I am often reminded when I heard defenses such as "you just can find people like these" whenever there was a question of exhorbitant CEO pay during the 90's even when these "rare talents" lost hundreds of millions or indeed billions for their companies.

    The point is that "yes you can." They are around. No one is that important or indispensible and other suitable candidates can be found that don't have lobby "stink" on them or may even believe it or not, pay their taxes on time. The administration already got one "gimme" on a flawed nominee.

    January 27, 2009 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  19. Alex

    If Gates is finding it too difficult to do his job under more stringent ethics requirements, he's certainly welcome to step aside for someone with stronger principles to take the reins at Defense...

    January 27, 2009 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  20. TexEcon

    Former President Bush's critics have such an animus toward everything about his administration they forget - or never knew - of the relationship between government procurement and private contractors that has long existed. Anyone posting here ever heard of Brown & Root and LBJ? Point is appropriately made that government procurement officers bend over backwards to avoid any sort of appearance of impropriety. The government procurement process is actually quite transparent and much of it is publicly available, hence no real major procurement scandals in quite a while. Though available to the press, that mundane process is not as titillating to viewers or readers as the idea of scandal. Here on the Obama Channel, you only get the what makes Bush appear bad and Obama look good.

    January 27, 2009 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  21. Dan, TX

    So Gates and Obama are in this together. If it is bad to appoint Lynn, Obama and Gates are both bad. If it is OK, they are both OK. At least it is not republican vs. democrat. It is republican and democrat on the same team. Criticize them both or neither.

    January 27, 2009 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
  22. David

    Good point this is one area I don't agree with President Obama we need to put the best people to work on hard problems. That's why I was happy to see him grant a waiver but with conditions on their service by not allowing them lobby the office they work for after they leave.

    January 27, 2009 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  23. Andre

    typical republican. Barack, get rid of that unhealthy war mongering piece of @#%!.

    January 27, 2009 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  24. Denver Dem

    Hey Bob the putz gates. With millions of americans out of work something tells me you can find at least a few people to fill the jobs. God please strike these Klans men down.

    January 27, 2009 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  25. Ula Nejad Sacramento, Ca

    Me thinks that he understands what Ethics really mean from a defense perspective. Just depends on where ones interests lie. Self, public or world good.

    January 27, 2009 06:06 pm at 6:06 pm |
1 2 3