Incoming Secretary of Defense and the contractor revolving door

Facing South reported last week about the revolving door between government officials and the lucrative world of military contracting. Stories like VP Dick Cheney's connection to Halliburton may elicit shock from some, but the reality is that it's become a standard feature of politics.

This weekend, the Los Angeles Times went in-depth on one of the most egregious examples, involving none other than Robert Gates, President Bush's nomination for Secretary of Defense. As the Times reports:

Companies with which Gates has been affiliated have secured hefty no- bid Pentagon contracts, and "you have to wonder if these companies will continue to get around bidding requirements once Gates is secretary," said Alex Knott, political director of the Center for Public Integrity, a Washington-based watchdog group.

Common Cause, another nonprofit watchdog, believes Gates should take steps now to insulate himself, including placing his stock holdings - some of which he acquired in return for board service - in a blind trust to avoid conflicts of interest with companies seeking federal work.

The ties between Gates, who is leaving his job at Texas A&M University, and defense contractors runs deep:

Gates' relationships with defense companies date to 1993, soon after he left government after 27 years in intelligence work. He joined the board of SAIC, which is a contractor for the Pentagon, CIA and other federal agencies. Gates' brief tenure came as the company weathered a Justice Department investigation into defense contract irregularities that it eventually settled for $2.5 million.

Gates later served on the advisory board for VoteHere, an electronic voting machine firm tied to SAIC, and on the boards of defense contractors TRW, now part of Northrop Grumann Corp., and the Massachusetts-based Charles Stark Draper Laboratory.

Gates' knowledge of international issues won him a place on the board of Houston-based Parker Drilling Co., a global firm with 3,000 employees and operations in 10 countries. Gates earned $52,000 last year from the company, which values his "unique background and experience," spokeswoman Rose Bratton said. A Parker proxy statement reports that Gates owns 12,000 shares - worth more than $115,000 at Friday's stock price - with rights to acquire 60,000 more.

Read the whole piece for more.