The defense sector hired dozens of former armed services committee and Department of Defense personnel last year, with more swinging through the so-called “revolving door” to lobby on behalf of defense sector clients for the first time in the first quarter of 2023, a new OpenSecrets analysis of federal lobbying disclosures found.
At least 672 former government officials, military officers and members of Congress worked as lobbyists, board members or executives for the top 20 defense companies in 2022, according to a new report released by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) last Wednesday. Warren’s staff utilized OpenSecrets’ revolving door database as well as corporate websites, lobbying disclosures and U.S. Senate confirmation lists to identify these individuals.
“This practice is widespread in the defense industry, giving, at minimum, the appearance of corruption and favoritism, and potentially increasing the chance that DoD spending results in ineffective weapons and programs, bad deals, and waste of taxpayer dollars,” the report says.
From 2011 through 2022, more than three-quarters of defense sector lobbyists previously worked in the federal government. These lobbyists leveraged their relationships and expertise on a range of issues, including the annual defense spending bill, an OpenSecrets analysis of federal lobbying disclosures found.
President Joe Biden’s 2024 budget proposal requested a record $886 billion for defense spending. Over one-third of the defense budget went to the top 100 Department of Defense contractors in 2021, the most recent year for which the U.S. government has published contracting data.
The defense sector plus Boeing spent more than $38.6 million on federal lobbying during the first quarter of 2023. OpenSecrets codes Boeing as part of the transportation sector since the company gets most of its money from commercial airplane sales, but it also designs and manufactures fighter jets, helicopters, missile systems and drones, among other military-grade aerospace systems.
Of the 708 lobbyists working on behalf of defense companies so far in 2023, at least 517 swung through the revolving door. OpenSecrets estimates the defense sector has hired more than 2,700 revolving door lobbyists since 2001.
“To keep the money flowing, defense contractors frequently hire former Pentagon and other government officials to help them win defense contracts from their former colleagues,” Warren’s report found.
One of the revolving door lobbyists who registered to lobby on behalf of new defense clients in the first quarter of 2023 is Michelle Jelnicky, who left her job as legislative director to Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Miss.) in January to work as the associate director of global government relations at weapons manufacturer Raytheon.
Jelnicky worked on armed services and international relations policy while on Capitol Hill, according to her LinkedIn. She immediately began lobbying Congress and the Department of Defense on the National Defense Authorization Act for 2024, among other provisions, according to Raytheon’s first quarter federal lobbying disclosure.
Another recent revolving door lobbyist is Paul Arcangeli, who was the Democratic House Armed Services Committee staff director for 12 years before he left in June 2022 to become a principal at Invariant, a government relations firm. Arcangeli started lobbying during the third quarter of 2022 and works for several defense clients including Raytheon, leveraging his expertise and relationships for his clients.
House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) recognized Arcangeli for his “indispensable role in supporting the passage of nearly one-third of every NDAA the House has ever considered,” according to Arcangeli’s Invariant bio. Arcangeli “educate[d] members on commercial items in FY 2024 National Defense Authorization Act” on behalf of Raytheon during the first quarter of 2022, according to Invariant’s federal lobbying disclosure.
Neither Jelnicky nor Arcangeli responded to OpenSecrets’ request for comment.
A strong first quarter for top defense contractors
The Department of Defense’s five biggest contractors — Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman — all reported “strong” first quarters, even as all but Boeing spent less on federal lobbying in the first quarter of 2023 than in recent years.
The largest federal defense contractor, Lockheed Martin, spent $3.3 million on federal lobbying during the first quarter of 2023. That’s slightly down from 2022 and the lowest amount the company has spent on federal lobbying in a single quarter since 2011. The forthcoming annual defense spending bill was a top priority for Lockheed Martin lobbyists, mentioned repeatedly in the company’s first quarter lobbying disclosure.
Lockheed Martin CEO Jim Taiclet told investors during the first quarter earnings call they should “anticipate heightened emphasis on national security prioritization from Congress, supplemental spending requests including Ukraine and elevated demand from allies and partners.”
“The near peer threats posed by China and the Russian invasion of Ukraine is driving the national defense strategy and has created added demand for Lockheed Martin’s advanced effective solutions,” Taiclet said.
Raytheon, which spent $3.1 million on federal lobbying during the first quarter of 2023, also reported a strong start to the year, with sales up 10% according to a presentation for the first quarter earnings call with investors. Raytheon CEO Gregory Hayes told investors he was “very encouraged” by Biden’s 2024 budget request of $886 billion for the Pentagon. Hayes said the biggest challenge for sales is “getting it out the door at this point,” with the company reporting a record $180 billion in backlog.
“We still are constrained from a supply chain standpoint, although it’s getting a hell of a lot better,” Hayes said.
Boeing also saw revenues from its defense, space and security programs jump from $5.5 billion during the first quarter of 2022 to $6.5 billion during the first quarter of 2023. The aerospace company spent $3.8 million on federal lobbying during the first quarter, more than it’s spent during the same period since 2017.
In addition to the annual defense spending bill, Boeing lobbyists reported lobbying on a range of issues including commercial aviation policy, supply chain, Russian sanctions, relations with China and international sales. Boeing hired more revolving door lobbyists than the other top 20 defense companies, Warren’s analysis found.
Northrop Grumman told investors the company saw “strong” first quarter sales and noted the “President’s budget request demonstrates strong support for [Northrop Grumman] programs” in its first quarter earnings presentation.
The aerospace and defense company spent $4.4 million on federal lobbying during the first three months of 2023, its lowest level of first quarter lobbying spending since 2015. In addition to lobbying on the annual defense spending bill, “Export Control Reform, Foreign Military Sales, Defense Trade, International Sales” were part of Northrop Grumman’s lobbying portfolio, according to first quarter lobbying disclosure.
“Global defense budgets are increasing as many U.S. allies modernize and expand their defense capabilities. An important part of our long-term growth strategy is focused on leveraging our portfolio to meet these growing global needs, and we continue to make progress in this area,” Northrop Grumman CEO Kathy Warden told investors.
General Dynamics’ lobbyists disclosed lobbying Congress and the State Department on “foreign military sales & direct commercial sales to include those by non-United States based subsidiaries.” The company spent more than $3 million on federal lobbying during the first three months of 2023 on issues including federal budgeting, homeland security, trade, aerospace and defense.
General Dynamics brought in nearly $9.9 billion during the first quarter of 2023, “$400 million more in revenue than anticipated,” CEO Phebe Novakovic told investors.
“Obviously, we are off to a good start here,” Novakovic said.
Senior Researcher Dan Auble and Research Intern Rachel Timmons contributed to this report.
This is part of a series investigating defense industry influence on policy and conflict throughout the world, made possible in part by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.