SECDEF Gates’ recent decisions about the FY 10 Budget has sparked a new round of lobbying on Capitol Hill so it is only fitting I post my recent e-interview with Matthew R. Kambrod about his book, Lobbying for Defense: An Insider’s View.

What inspired you to write Lobbying for Defense: An Insider’s View, and what is it about?

After retiring from the Army in 1987, I began working as a consultant and lobbyist with a number of US and foreign companies, all the Military Departments, and both Houses of Congress. In each case I found a great lack of understanding of what the role was of the other organizations on the part of the staffs involved. Particularly on the part of industry was there a profound lack of awareness of how the Services prepare their priorities and budgets, conduct business with industry, and how the Congress responds in its role as authorizer and appropriator of funds in support of Service requirements.

Clearly, when I mention “industry” in this case, it’s not in the sense of Defense Goliaths, the Lockheeds, Northrup Grummans, L-3s, those corporate giants with their own in-house stable of lobbyists and consultants and an extensive knowledge of how to do business with the Government. I do, on the other hand, mean the hundreds of smaller Defense contractors from East to West Coast whose exposure to the Pentagon and the Hill is minimal or non-existent.

The book, then, was written 20 years after retirement from the Army as a tutorial intended for readers at all levels in the industrial-military-congressional equation to gain a background in the lobbying process. It carries the reader through the various steps needed to be taken by a lobbyist and his clients to secure funding for Defense programs.

In so doing, it leads the reader through the roles of major military field and systems commands; the Pentagon; discussing the often difficult to understand defense budget formulation process tied to annual milestones; and more importantly, the need to understand “funded” and “unfunded” Defense requirements. It covers, among a host of other matters, the role of congressional delegations, document requirements needed to be provided the Congress in requesting funding, and the role of the Professional Staff Members on the four Defense Committees. Included is a chapter offering insights into a myriad of often asked questions about the mechanics of getting around the Pentagon and the Hill.

Who should read it?

For starters, I think the book would be helpful reading to any staff officers beginning a tour in the Pentagon related to management of weapons systems. On the Hill, incoming staff officers planning to serve their Members as Military Legislative Assistants, “MLA”s as they are known, would gain a better understanding of how the Pentagon does business, a knowledge probably very helpful in their roles as advisors to their Members on military issues.

I think much would be gained from the book by industry executives and their marketing force hoping to generate interest on the part of the Military Departments in their products; and, if successful in generating that interest, how to steer their companies or corporations to maximize opportunities in the Defense arena and on the Hill with their District Representatives and State Senators. If industry is going to play well in this type Government activity, it needs to know the rules, and these the text covers in detail.

One group should particularly read the book, and that is made up of those rising officers assigned to the Military War Colleges, from which as graduates many will go to key assignments in the Pentagon and become involved with both industrial and congressional issues tied to major Defense weapons programs. The Services do not readily acknowledge lobbying as a reality of Defense business in the sense of teaching much about it, yet it’s basic “lobbying” that secures additional funds for many Defense programs which fall into the “Unfunded Requirements” category, supplementing major Defense budget shortfalls.

Is there such a thing as a good earmark?

Absolutely. Most Defense earmarks are factually “good” earmarks. Defense together with the Congress has a system of checks and balances in place which controls which earmarks are actually considered as candidates for funding. The process involves most fundamentally the preparation by the Military Departments of their formal “Unfunded Requirements List” which annually identifies to the Congress what programs the Pentagon has prioritized as essential for execution, but for which insufficient funds had been provided by Office of Management and Budget at the start of the Budget cycle.

It is largely against these unfunded requirements that earmarks submitted by Members are measured for legitimacy by the Professional Staff Members of the Defense Committees, personnel who are uniquely qualified to make those calls, and in constant contact with the Services to confirm the validity of the Member requests.

Further, recent requirements put in place two years ago by the Democratic Congress calling for transparency, i.e., the identification of what earmarks are submitted by what Members, for what programs, and in what amounts in actual Defense Committee Reports, has factually reduced Defense earmarks substantially, again insuring that what is funded is legitimate and necessary to the Pentagon, and open for public review.

Conversely, are there “bad” earmarks? You bet………..but the numbers are now minimal. There are still on rare occasion powerful Members of Congress wishing to support their constituencies at the expense of soldiers, sailors or airmen who are sadly charged to fight with the Member’s less capable equipment, but this is increasingly a rare phenomenon, although it does go on even today.

Part of this problem, quite frankly, rests also with the Service, and its sometimes reluctance to stand up to a powerful Member by refusing to apply his/her directed funds to a known flawed program; or, as a minimum, to compete that program to give the user of the equipment a better chance at gaining the best product that can be fielded. This is totally within the purview of the various commands dealing in combat system hardware procurement. Some control it well, such as the simulation command in Orlando, Florida, while others bend to the will of a Member flooding the field on occasion with sub-standard equipment.

An example would be a Service’s receiving Member directed funding for procurement of diagnostic systems known to be less efficient than other available systems, but a Command’s refusing to compete the Member’s favored system, for fear of non-selection of that product by a legitimate Source Selection Board, and perceived consequences downstream driven by the Member. These situations are increasingly more rare these days, but they do still exist.

What happens in such cases, is that the funds directed by a Member toward his constituent’s
Product constitutes a “sole source procurement” which is allowed only under specific conditions spelled out in Federal Acquisition Regulations (FARs). Seldom do programs forced upon a Service by a Member fall within the FAR “sole source” guidelines justifying that procurement, and this type acquisition becomes basically a sham, and a travesty to the soldier the acquisition process was designed to support.

What are some recommendations you have for the earmark process?

I would like to see legislation specifying a “no longer than” period of time, factually a limitation for funding earmarked Defense programs. For example, if earmark funds are applied to a specific “research and development” or “acquisition” program supported initially by a Service, allow the Member to request funding for that program for only three years, i.e., essentially provide “bridge money” to jump start what seems at the outset a good idea. If in that time the Service does not budget for the program’s continuation internally, i.e., in its Program Objective Memorandum (POM), that is clear signal to the Congress the program is neither successful nor a priority to the Department and should be terminated.

The Member can then focus on another program within his District with a higher probability of success, and the Service has sent clear signal to the Congress that there is no future for the specific program, that it is a failure, that no more dollars should be appropriated, and that the program should be dropped. Otherwise, these programs tend to develop a life of their own, are funded sometimes interminably, and the only gain to be made is by the company in someone’s District that continues happily to suck Defense dollars till someone somewhere sees the absurdity of the goings-on and shuts them off.

This three year limitation is not my idea. It was known years ago as “the Thurmond Rule” and practiced by Senator Strom Thurmond. Senator Thurmond would terminate any earmarked program requested in South Carolina through him that was not funded by a Service in its POM within three years. Smart man. Everyone benefits in this case, even the contractor whose product would ultimately not survive, as he can move on to other opportunities, no longer wasting time and money.

Another recommendation would be to leave “Defense” alone in this debate. Discuss earmark reform in terms of transportation, commerce or agriculture, or any of the remaining appropriations. While you’ll certainly find some programs funded in Defense which could be contestable, that number is small, very small. For a change, focus should be elsewhere. Defense learned its lesson two decades or more ago with public outcries challenging $500.00 toilet seats, and now works together with the Congress to do what is necessary to compensate for an Administration’s and OMB’s shortfalls.

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Books

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