Inside JobHow the Pentagon Lobbies Congress From Within -- and Undercover

The United States' most elite fighting force is neither a SEAL team wading through some tropical jungle nor an Airborne Ranger unit treading across a distant dune. Far from it. The troops who wage the most battles -- and the ones who climb the ranks the fastest -- are the men and women who quietly soft-shoe the marble halls of Congress.Roughly 100 career military officers shadow the staffs of senators, representatives and committees each year. They're on the Pentagon payroll, but they work out of uniform and outside the chain of command. They work inside Congress, but neither are they elected nor wholly beholden to anyone who is.They are, in effect, temporary workers loaned from the Pentagon to Congress at an estimated cost to taxpayers of $12.5 million a year. Some are loaned through fellowship programs. Others are loaned directly to lawmakers. Both types routinely violate military and congressional rules, according to official documents.And both types of temps are able to lobby Congress from within. While admirals and arms peddlers pace the lobby, these mid-career officers write bills that buy billions of dollars worth of weapons, ships and airplanes each year."It's as if the taxpayers were paying lobbyists from Boeing and Lockheed Martin to go to the Hill and influence the process to the benefit of Boeing and Lockheed Martin," retired Rear Adm. Eugene J. Carroll said. "Now why should the taxpayers pay for that?"Taxpayers should not, argues Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the lone voice of dissent in this matter on Capitol Hill. In a November 1996 letter to the Pentagon, Grassley warned that the practice of assigning military personnel to Congress "has the potential for undermining and eroding two sacred constitutional principles of American national government: the separation of powers and civilian control of the military."Access, influenceLike shadowy Department of Defense agents on television's "X-Files," these military officers pop up in episode after episode of Capitol Hill's real-life political drama:Dan Ciechanowski worked the Senate floor during the summer of 1996. He handed out "fact sheets" supporting a massive military spending program along with business cards that identified him as a "Defense Fellow" in the office of Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.).What his embossed cards did not say was that Ciechanowski was an Air Force major and missile expert who had personally crawled inside Russian missile silos. Nor did Ciechanowski's fact sheet explain that Kyl's Star Wars-like missile defense plan would violate a major disarmament treaty and would cost taxpayers a whopping $60 billion to build.Grassley was one of the senators lobbied by Ciechanowski. After he learned the defense fellow was a major, Grassley demanded to know why there was an "... active duty military officer on the floor of the Senate ... aggressively lobbying against a measure to control military spending."That is not appropriate," Grassley wrote, "and it may not be legal."Eric Womble worked behind the scenes to maneuver an extra $750 million destroyer into Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's (R-Miss.) hometown.Lott's Pascagoula home stands within sight of the aging Ingalls Shipyard. Ingalls lost a major Navy contract in early 1997, and the yard where Lott's father had worked was facing huge layoffs. But with the help of Navy Cmdr. Womble, Lott was able to transform a three-ship deal into a four-ship deal, and get that extra ship built in Pascagoula.No one needs the extra ship. It's an Arleigh-Burke class destroyer, a ship designed during the Cold War to defend carriers against massive (100-plane-plus) airborne attacks by the Soviet Union. But the Soviet threat no longer exists, and the Navy itself has concluded that no other potential enemy is capable of mounting such an assault.Lott rewarded Womble by hiring the commander on his personal staff -- a move that required persuading the Pentagon to give Womble a full Navy pension even though he was a two years shy of the 20-year minimum term.Drew Bennett worked even further in the shadows. He worked directly for the Republican Party, helping author a handbook for incoming freshmen.Bennett, who has a Ph.D. in adult education and a background in military "operations and doctrine," was assigned to the House Republican Conference. There he helped write a 66-page operations manual filled with hardy terms such as "war game" and "engaging the opposition."A lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps, Bennett was one of six senior military officers working through House Speaker Newt Gingrich's office in 1996. The others included an Army major assigned to a Republican task force and an Air Force major asked to develop a military-style command center through which the speaker could track his troops.Gingrich's personal platoon received unprecedented access and influence. The officers took turns traveling with the speaker. In a routine report to Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Randall West, Lt. Col. Bennett remarked, "While staffers have no vote, I am amazed at the influence they have on the Congress through their day-to-day work."Win-win situationCiechanowski was enrolled in a fellowship program run by the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. Womble and Bennett were "detailed" to Congress by the Pentagon, outside of any formal program.Neither the officers described in this story nor the lawmakers they worked for would speak to Metro Times on the record.But the organizations that sponsor the fellowship programs through which officers such as Ciechanowski served stoutly defended the practice."There's nothing nefarious about it," said Patti Iglarsh, who directs the LEGIS Fellows Program at the Brookings Institution. "This is the hallmark of an open government, to have people who are expert from one branch of government go to another branch to both learn and to share expertise."The LEGIS program was created in 1979 to give senior executive branch employees a better understanding of how Congress works. U.S. Office of Personnel Management ran the program until two years ago, when Brookings privatized it. LEGIS places about 80 fellows a year, from all segments of the executive branch.The American Political Science Association (APSA) runs another fellowship program popular at the Pentagon. APSA's program was founded in 1953 to serve journalists and political scientists, but over the years APSA began accepting applicants from the executive branch, including military officers."The people the Pentagon nominates are some of the best-qualified and most talented people in the program," said Jeffrey Biggs, a former APSA fellow who now directs the program. There are 44 fellows enrolled in this year's APSA class.Both programs are competitive. The Pentagon does not choose which applicants will be selected. Lawmakers do not pick which fellow they get. Successful applicants attend a one-month orientation session, then select an office to serve for the remainder of the seven- to 12-month fellowships. The Pentagon pays their full salaries, plus a small tuition to the sponsoring organization."We spend a lot of time advising fellows about what they can and cannot work on," Iglarsh said. "They cannot work on appropriations work that has to do with their specific programs. ... They can't campaign. They can't fund-raise. They can't accept gifts from people who lobby them. ... They can't do anything that would be in any way a conflict of interest."These fellowships lubricate the revolving doors that propel high-profile Washington careers. Cmdr. Womble, for example, used his detail to move from the Navy to the Senate; the man he replaced in Lott's office had done the same thing. Hitches on the Hill advance military careers as well; connections to senior lawmakers grease the way to the Pentagon's upper floors.Brookings and APSA also count dozens of senior lawmakers among their alumni."It's a win-win situation for everybody," Iglarsh said, "as long as everybody follows the rules."Busting the rulesBut on Capitol Hill -- where lawmakers' big ambitions are routinely constrained by small office budgets -- free help is habit-forming.House ethics rules prohibit members from recruiting fellows by name, and require that service be part of "an established mid-career education program." Other federal employees may be detailed to House committees (these are called "detailees"), but may not be detailed to a House member's personal staff.Senate ethics rules are less stringent. A detailee is considered a fellow once a senator says he is one. But no fellow can "work on issues related to the interests of" the organization that provides the fellow's paycheck.All of these rules are routinely broken, according to Metro Times' review of correspondence between lawmakers and military officials. The hundreds of pages of documents were obtained as the result of numerous Freedom of Information Act requests.Requests for extensions of time were the most common violations. By keeping officers on staff beyond the end of their fellowship, House lawmakers routinely converted legal fellows into illegal detailees. Rep. John Tanner's (D-Tenn.) August 1996 plea was typical. Tanner begged the Army to let him keep a major for six months beyond the end of his APSA fellowship. "We have come to consider (the major and his wife) as a part of our family," Tanner wrote, "... quite frankly, we are not ready to let him go."By-name requests were also common. In a bold bid to cherry-pick a talented officer, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) wrote to a retiring admiral on the Joint Chiefs of Staff: "It has come to my attention that Commander Kenneth D. Beeks, a member of your staff, will be moving to a new assignment upon your retirement. ... I would appreciate your assistance in having him detailed to me for service as a Congressional Fellow."Members fear no retribution from Congressional leadership for these infractions because the leaders are the most flagrant violators. Speaker Gingrich's six personal officers smashed all previous records for House use of military temps. Lott requested Womble by name and kept the detailee on his personal staff beyond the one-year limit before hiring him.Indeed, senior senators seem to consider Pentagon temps a perk of the job. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) put fellows on the Democratic Policy Committee throughout the decade he chaired it. And Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) -- who has held office since Hawaii became a state -- has kept a Navy nurse on his personal staff for years.Pentagon guilty, tooIf Congress finds it hard to live by the rules, the Pentagon finds it impossible to refuse the 535 men and women who gave the U.S. armed forces $268 billion in both guns and butter this year.Department of Defense rules require fellows be competitively selected within established programs. Detailee assignments should be limited to one year. And no active duty officer may perform partisan political work under any circumstances.But as the correspondence related to Speaker Gingrich's requisition of Bennett and others makes clear, the Pentagon is eager to place its best and brightest in Congress' inner sanctum.In late 1995, Gingrich asked the Joint Chiefs of Staff for three senior officers with backgrounds in "operations and doctrine." Correspondence obtained as the result of Freedom of Information Act requests shows that then-Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. John Shalikashvili handpicked three lieutenant colonels and, after clearing the highly unusual request with then-Secretary of Defense William J. Perry, detailed them to Capitol Hill."CJCS (Shalikashvili) says go," the handwritten memo dated Nov. 27 begins, "go fast." The last two words are underlined twice. In later memos, the officers -- of whom Lt. Col. Drew Bennett was one -- were referred to simply as "Shali's interns."After years of such freewheeling delivery of detailees, not even the Pentagon knows exactly how many of its officers are temping on Capitol Hill. The Department of Defense tried to find out. But after nine months of investigation, the DOD's inspector general issued an interim report last July concluding that due to the lack of "management controls" an exact total was not knowable.The inspector general did find 51 fellows and 49 detailees during fiscal year 1996. At least five of the fellowships were illegally extended. And fully 47 of the 49 detailees violated DOD rules.But as is the case with Congress, no one is enforcing the rules. The inspector general noted no instance in which either an illegal detailee or the command that assigned that detailee was reprimanded. And as for the fellows, neither Brookings nor APSA monitors what legal fellows do after they complete the one-month orientation.Iglarsh and Biggs both said Congress and the Pentagon are responsible for enforcing their own rules. When confronted with the fact that Ciechanowski had violated protocol simply by treading on the Senate floor, Iglarsh said, "If the Senate breaks its own rules, that's the Senate's deal."Adding up the cost [Image]Rear Admiral Eugene J. Carroll watched plenty of officers go to the Hill during his career. He was commissioned in 1945 and commanded the aircraft carrier USS Midway before becoming an assistant deputy chief of Naval Operations.Carroll and others argue that the Pentagon has a legitimate need for representation on Capitol Hill. Congress needs timely information from the Pentagon, and vice versa. But they say that flow of information is provided by the armed forces' sizable legislative affairs offices, where officers work in uniform and within the established chain of command."These institutions are already bloated in the extreme with functionaries for every task you could think of," Carroll said. "And then they reach out and get the Pentagon to foot the bill for a few extra bodies."Those bodies don't come cheap. Officers at the rank of major and above take home roughly $45,000 in salary and cost-of-living allowances. But the total cost of that officer -- including training, support, medical care, pensions, etc. -- is much higher. For planning purposes, Pentagon bean counters calculate the average annual cost of a soldier at $125,000.If the inspector general's count of 100 fellows and detailees was correct, then the Pentagon footed a bill for $12.5 million worth of Congressional help last year.And that's just the cost to the Pentagon. The total bill to the taxpayers also includes the cost of all those unneeded destroyers and Republican training manuals.Lobbyists go to extraordinary lengths to gain access to lawmakers. But no matter how much campaign money they give, or how many free trips they provide, they never get the kind of round-the-clock access and hands-on participation that fellows and detailees are handed the moment they walk through the door."It's totally inappropriate," Carroll said. "That's like taxpayers paying for a representative of Boeing running around on the floor of the Senate saying 'vote for the B-2.'"You don't have the Congress holding the Pentagon at an arm's length and saying, 'Justify your programs.' You have Congress saying, 'Come tell us about them and where can we spend the money, where can we send the contract.' Well, that's exactly the same relationship between the Pentagon and the contractors themselves. It's incestuous."Rats are quietThe Pentagon's Congressional temp service also damages the system of checks and balances that otherwise moderates Washington.In practice, the system of mutual tattling extends well beyond the constitutional separation of powers: Republicans rat out Democrats, Congress rats out the Pentagon, everybody rats out the White House, and so on.But almost no one wants to rat out the military temps.Not the Pentagon, which stonewalled inquiries by then-Rep. Pat Schroeder for most of 1996. The DOD finally consented to a review in October of that year, and, finding it too hot to handle, turned it over to its inspector general the following month. One year and numerous missed deadlines later, the Pentagon inspector general's office still won't say when, if ever, it will issue a final report.Not the White House, where Commander in Chief Clinton boasted about trimming his office staff, then replaced many of the staffers with military detailees. Last year a White House detailee was caught requesting FBI files on Clinton's political foes. This year detailees videotaped the president having coffee with some of his largest campaign donors.And not Congress, where the Senate lawyers blocked the inspector general from questioning defense staff about what they did while they worked on the Hill.Only Sen. Grassley and former Rep. Schroeder have shown any interest in the issue. Even they were able to find only shreds of evidence as to what these fellows and detailees actually do."I think the practice of assigning military personnel to positions in Congress is totally inappropriate and dangerous over the long run," Grassley wrote to the inspector general. "There is simply no role for the armed forces in politics in the United States of America."SIDEBAR ONE:Newt's Personal WarAll things military hold a powerful fascination over military brat and House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has tried to impose military-style systems of command and control over the preternaturally unruly House of Representatives, and is attempting to launch a new, super-secret security agency.Ever since he was elected in 1978, Gingrich has spent an extraordinary amount of time touring war colleges and military think tanks. He often calls politics "war without bloodshed."Over the past several years, Gingrich has dispatched several squadrons of Republican lawmakers and their staffs to Fort Monroe in nearby Virginia.Fort Monroe is a Training and Doctrine command, where officers are instructed in the art of instructing troops. Standing near the site of the famous Civil War naval battle between the Monitor and the Merrimac, the U.S. Army base bills itself as a place "where tomorrow's victories begin."Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), of Holland, has made at least two trips to Fort Monroe, according to reports in the Capitol Hill biweekly Roll Call. The taxpayers picked up the whole tab for the Republican training sessions: meals, lodging and travel by Blackhawk helicopter. Hoekstra reportedly drew on his lessons in "the operational art of war" to draft a GOP handbook, entitled "House Republican Strategic Framework.""The speaker has sought to adapt the Army's war-fighting concepts to his own political battles," wrote Damon Chappie, the Roll Call reporter who has tenaciously followed Gingrich's military obsession, "from Gingrich's early days at GOPAC, his Republican training center, to his command these past two years of House Republicans during victories on welfare reform and spending cuts and a decisive defeat in the balanced budget battle."Gingrich is also putting together his own spy agency. In the most recent armed forces appropriations bill, Gingrich received $3 million to fund the creation of a vague "21st Century Information Security Strategy Study Group." The super-secret agency would consist of a handful of military analysts who would be given unprecedented access to any file at any government agency -- classified or not -- under the pretext of identifying threats to national security.Gingrich is the stepson of a career infantry officer, with whom he reportedly had a strained relationship. While his stepfather was away in Korea and Vietnam, Gingrich's childhood was shaped, he has said, by John Wayne's Sands of Iwo Jima. Likewise, he has often said that his decision to go into politics began during a tour of the World War I battlefield at Verdun, which he took with his stepfather.But the speaker has never served in the armed forces, nor has he sat on any defense-related committees. And when questions of war have spilled onto the floor of the House of Representatives -- as they did during the explosive debate preceding the House vote on the Gulf War resolution -- Gingrich was uncharacteristically silent. He literally contributed nothing to the debate. SIDBAR TWOScenario: Coup in 2012A small but growing number of military thinkers warns that the United States is facing a crisis in civilian-military relations.Gregory D. Foster warns of "a serious breakdown in civilian oversight of the military," in the fall issue of the Washington Quarterly. Foster calls it "a crisis marked by the failure of civilian officials in both the executive and legislative branches of the federal government to exercise discerning, responsible authority over a parochial military establishment that is wedded to an archaic conception of war and self, insatiably greedy for resources... disturbingly politicized (yet, ironically, politically tone-deaf) at the top, and beset by largely unrecognized but nevertheless pervasive civic illiteracy within its own ranks."Foster is no peacenik. The West Point graduate and former Vietnam infantry commander is director of research at the National Defense University in Washington. Yet Foster warns that civilian control of the U.S. armed forces is slipping, in large part because of the culture of secrecy and separatism that has grown up around the military since the end of the Cold War.Col. Charles J. Dunlap Jr. also warns of a collapse of civil-military relations as a result of excessive secrecy. In the U.S. Air Force Institute for National Security Studies, the Air Force judge advocate wrote an essay in the form of a fictitious letter from the future describing the military coup in the year 2012."In the mid-1990s, the overclassification problem arose with respect to the military's burgeoning involvement in information warfare, particularly offensive information warfare. Military leaders coyly declined to discuss the topic, citing high-security classifications. Indeed, the subject was so grotesquely overclassified that even within the armed forces and the civilian defense establishment few knew any of the particulars," Dunlap wrote.Fortunately for us, Dunlap returned the U.S. government to civilian control in an equally imaginary counter-coup in 2015.Monte Paulsen is the Metro Times national editor. He works out of the paper's Washington, D.C., bureau and can be reached at


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