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Arms Merchants Go To The Pentagon


There's a growing number of defense industry insiders landing top jobs at the Pentagon. Some happen to be from the Pentagon's biggest customers. And that led to a bipartisan beating up at a confirmation hearing this week. NPR's David Welna has that story.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: John Rood is a senior vice president at Lockheed Martin International, charged with boosting the company's sales abroad. So at Rood's Thursday confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee to be the Pentagon's top policy official, Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren wanted to be sure he would steer clear of Lockheed.


ELIZABETH WARREN: You've signed the White House ethics pledge, which requires you to recuse yourself from all matters involving your former employer Lockheed for two years. But the ethics laws currently in place permit you to apply for a waiver from that recusal. So will you commit not to seek such a waiver during your time in office?

WELNA: Rood's reply was neither a yes nor a no.


JOHN ROOD: I plan to live by the - very scrupulously by the ethics agreement I've signed of the Office of Government Ethics.

WARREN: Will you agree not to ask for a waiver?

ROOD: That agreement that I've signed with the Office of Government Ethics allows up the law...

WARREN: I'm going to take that as a no.

WELNA: Warren went on to note that Rood would be overseeing policy on foreign military sales - the kind of sales he sought as an executive at Lockheed. Rood's answer got him in deeper trouble.


ROOD: I will financially divest myself of all financially...

WARREN: So I'm asking you the question, will you recuse yourself from policy discussion...

JOHN MCCAIN: Rood, I - Rood, I suggest you answer the question to the senator.

ROOD: Yes. Yes, Mr. Chairman.

WELNA: That was Committee Chairman John McCain joining the fray. Warren, again, tried getting an answer from Rood, and she was clearly not satisfied.


WARREN: I don't understand why the answer isn't just yes or no.

MCCAIN: Rood, I suggest you answer the question, or you're going to have trouble getting through this committee.

WELNA: It was obvious, the Arizona Republican added, that Rood was ducking Warren's questions.


MCCAIN: I don't like your answers. Most of us don't like your answers. We'll be giving you written questions. And I suggest that you answer them thoroughly and completely, OK?

ROOD: Yes, sir.

WELNA: With that scolding, McCain turned to his Democratic colleague and thanked her.


MCCAIN: Senator Warren, I'm glad you raised it because one of my major concerns has been the big five and the rotating back and forth between government and business.

WELNA: Lockheed Martin is the biggest of the big five firms selling arms to the Pentagon. Raytheon is also in that group. And yet on Wednesday, McCain voted to confirm Raytheon's top Washington lobbyist, Mark Esper, as secretary of the Army. At Esper's confirmation hearing earlier this month, McCain noted that Esper had unequivocally promised to have nothing to do with his former employer.


MCCAIN: I appreciate your commitment not only to recuse yourself from matters related to the Raytheon company but further not to seek or accept waivers to your recusal obligation.

WELNA: John Rood might well heed those words if he's to save his troubled nomination. Seventy percent of the Pentagon's Senate-confirmed positions remain unfilled 10 months into the Trump presidency. David Welna, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.