Lockheed Martin F-16s used by Israel to bomb Gaza
"Lockheed Martin is such a big company, with so many fingers in so many pies, that it's almost impossible to keep up with all of its activities. I had to be selective in Prophets of War, but even so there are a number of issues I could have addressed in more detail."
By DANA LIEBELSONThe largest defense contractor in the U.S., Lockheed Martin, is also a heavyweight in POGO's Federal Contractor Misconduct Database, having paid $590 million since 1995 in fines, penalties, and settlements for cases of misconduct. Perhaps no one knows more about the problems associated with this defense contracting giant than William D. Hartung, whose book, Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex, is being released in paperback on March 6. Hartung is a Senior Research Fellow in the New America Foundation’s American Strategy Program, and is an expert on weapons proliferation, the politics and economics of military, and national security.
In anticipation of the new edition of Hartung’s book (it was first published in hardback in December 2010), POGO spoke with him about contracting costs, Obama’s defense budget, and the revolving door.
POGO: What made you decide to write Prophets of War?
William Hartung: I’ve worked on military spending issues for a long time, and Lockheed Martin just kept turning up. The company is a big arms exporter, was a player in the Strategic Defense Initiative under Reagan, and was on the cutting edge of the merger movement in the 90s. In terms of looking at how the defense industry works, [Lockheed Martin] just seemed like the obvious place to start.
POGO: What do you think President Dwight D. Eisenhower—who famously warned about the dangers of the military industrial complex—would have had to say about Lockheed Martin?
WH: I don’t think Eisenhower could have imagined it. In absolute military terms, the U.S. defense budget is a lot larger than it was, and the idea that a company could get $36 billion in government contracts in one year and be involved in almost every area of defense—from weapons production to working with the IRS and Homeland Security—would have been unbelievable.
POGO: Do you think there is an effective way to reduce Lockheed Martin’s hegemony so that one company isn’t as controlling?
|"we know who we're working for"|
WH: I think we need to take a harder look at some of the mergers. It would be helpful if smaller companies that are particularly innovative weren’t automatically bought up by the bigger companies. Over time, we also need to move in the direction of more competition. For example, as the F-35 program is envisioned now, it basically gives Lockheed Martin a complete monopoly and eliminates competition in that area. From an oversight perspective, that’s problematic.
POGO: You’ve said that another key factor that has helped Lockheed Martin secure U.S. military contracts is the company’s ability to exploit the revolving door. Can you talk about that?
The defense industry as a whole has over 1,000 lobbyists—that’s almost two for every Member of Congress. And about two thirds of these lobbyists used to work in the Pentagon, Congress, or a decision-making body that was responsible for oversight. There needs to be more scrutiny of these lobbyists. I also think there needs to be a greater cooling-off period [for those who want to enter the lobbying industry], and there should be a clear definition of what information should be disclosed. I think if there was a solution found to the campaign finance issue; that would also be helpful. Finally, I would like to see more independence in the Pentagon’s decision-making. Sometimes congressional panels involve only Pentagon and industry insiders—and we don’t know any of the details.
POGO: Were there weapons programs in Obama’s FY2013 budget that you think should have been cut, but weren’t?
WH: Yes, I think the F-35 program should have been scaled back further. What they did instead was delay purchase of the planes over the next five years. Given that the F-35 has doubled in price and hasn’t been meeting its performance goals, it’s simply a logical place to scale back. There are other programs that are certainly trouble, like the Littoral Combat Ship and the future bomber fleet. I also question whether we need to keep 11 aircraft carriers [Editor’s note: see POGO and Taxpayers for Common Sense’s Spending Less, Spending Smarter report and our blog coverage of the President’s budget].
POGO: Do you think the budget adequately addresses the exorbitant costs of service contractors?
WH: I don’t see any clear or major change in how they’re handling service contractors, [Defense Secretary Robert Gates] wanted to reduce them by 10 percent, but the Pentagon has not given any evidence that it’s doing that. Given that service contractors cost a lot more
Granted, maybe there’s something else going we don’t know about.
POGO: Are there new insights you’ve gleaned since the book came out in hardback?
WH: Lockheed Martin is such a big company, with so many fingers in so many pies, that it's almost impossible to keep up with all of its activities. I had to be selective in Prophets of War, but even so there are a number of issues I could have addressed in more detail. For example, I touch only lightly on the company's role in military space activities, where its Space Based Infrared System-High (SBIRS-High) project has undergone cost overruns of over 400 percent. Not until the paperback do I get into Lockheed Martin's foray into green technology, and the questions raised about their potential role in this area. There was an interesting battle in Burlington, Vermont, where the company dropped its plan to partner with the city on "sustainable environmental practices" after local protests. And Lockheed Martin's leading position in industry efforts to beat back an attempt to make reasonable reductions in Pentagon spending is evolving as we speak.