"The revolving door is a problem because it creates the appearance—and in some cases the reality—of conflicts of interest in the making of defense policy and in the shaping of the size and composition of the Pentagon budget."
A report published Wednesday revealed that the vast majority of four-star U.S. military officers who have retired over the past five years went to work for the arms industry, a revolving door that drives soaring profits and near-record military spending.
The report—entitled March of the Four–Stars: The Role of Retired Generals and Admirals in the Arms Industry—was published by William D. Hartung, a senior research fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, and intern Dillon Fisher. They found that 26 of 32 four-star generals and admirals who retired between June 2018 and July 2023 "went to work for the arms industry as board members, advisers, executives, consultants, lobbyists, or members of financial institutions that invest in the defense sector."
"Too often when it comes to military spending and policy, special interests override the public interest."
Fifteen of the retired officers were hired as board members or advisers for small and medium–sized weapons contractors, while five took similar jobs at one of the top 10 arms companies. Five retired four–star officers became arms industry consultants, five were hired as lobbyists for weapons companies, and four joined financial firms that invest in the arms sector.
"Employing well-connected ex-military officers can give weapons makers enormous, unwarranted influence over the process of determining the size and shape of the Pentagon budget, to the detriment of our national security," Hartung said in a statement. "Too often when it comes to military spending and policy, special interests override the public interest. The revolving door is a major contributor to this process."
According to the report:
Among the most prominent four–stars who have gone through the revolving door are former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, who joined the board of Lockheed Martin five months after leaving the military; Gen. Mike Murray, former head of the U.S. Army Futures Command, who went on the boards of three defense tech firms—Capewell, Hypori, and Vita Inclinata; Gen. Terrence O'Shaugnessy, former head of the U.S. Northern Command, who is now a senior adviser to Elon Musk at SpaceX...; Gen. Richard D. Clarke, former commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, who joined the boards of General Dynamics, defense tech firm Shift5, and drone maker General Atomics; and Gen. John W. Raymond, former head of the U.S. Space Command, who went on to be a managing partner at Cerberus Capital Management.
The report's recommendations include:
- Barring four–star officers from going to work for firms that receive $1 billion or more in Pentagon contracts per year;
- Extending "cooling off" periods before retired Pentagon officials and military officers can go to work on behalf of the arms industry; and
- Increasing transparency for post–government employment and activities on the part of retired Pentagon and military officials working on behalf of arms contractors, including reporting on their interactions with Congress and the Executive Branch.
"The revolving door is a problem because it creates the appearance—and in some cases the reality—of conflicts of interest in the making of defense policy and in the shaping of the size and composition of the Pentagon budget," Hartung and Fisher wrote. "The role of top military officials is particularly troubling, given their greater clout in the military and the government more broadly than most other revolving door hires. Their influence over policy and budget issues can tilt the scales towards a more militarized foreign policy."
As one arms industry executive said at last month's Defense and Security Equipment International trade show in London, "War is good for business."