Defense nominee won't reveal potential conflicts

Professor Bruce Green in The Washington Times, November 10, 2009

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President Obama's nominee for a top weapons-buying job at the Pentagon recently served as a paid adviser for a big defense contractor and is declining to disclose whom else he has worked for on a government ethics form designed to help the public guard against potential conflicts of interest.

Frank Kendall III, Mr. Obama's pick for principal deputy undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, received $75,000 in consulting fees last year from defense contractor SAIC Inc., according to his recently filed disclosure form. He also reported fees totaling $8,500 from Centra Technology, another defense contractor.

But he's declined to name six other recent private clients, which were alluded to in the disclosure form but not identified. Federal ethics rules allow nominees to keep clients' identities private in limited circumstances. But ethics analysts say the omission raises questions about whether any of the undisclosed clients are also military contractors.

"It kind of raises a red flag as far as the Obama administration's efforts to keep contractors out of the Department of Defense," Scott Amey, general counsel to the nonpartisan watchdog group Project on Government Oversight, said of Mr. Kendall's defense consulting work.

The White House defended Mr. Kendall's disclosures.

"Mr. Kendall is committed to adhering to the highest standards of ethical conduct as established by the president at the beginning of his administration with the issuance of the Ethics Executive Order," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said via e-mail.

"Mr. Kendall has engaged in no lobbying activities on behalf of his former clients," Mr. Vietor added.

Mr. Obama's ethics rules state that political appointees, whether they were lobbyists or not, cannot participate in any government decisions that "directly and substantially" relate to their former employers or clients. Mr. Vietor said Mr. Kendall will comply with that rule.

Bruce Green, a Fordham Law School professor and past chairman of the New York State Bar Association's ethics committee, said nominees shouldn't be required to disclose confidential clients' identities. Doing so, he said, would mean that far fewer prospective candidates would be willing to enter government service.

Still, he said, Mr. Kendall could provide more information about the sort of work he has been doing for his clients without violating confidentiality rules.