We’re Worried About the U.S. Air Force Secretary Nominee
Heather Wilson got dodgy contracts and may have lobbied illegally
by LYDIA DENNETT
Unfortunately it appears that another Trump administration national security nominee is a textbook example of the revolving door.
Heather Wilson, who Trump recently nominated for U.S. Air Force Secretary, represented New Mexico in Congress from 1998 to 2009. After leaving that post, she spent two years doing contract work for four nuclear facilities, including two New Mexico-based labs, without recording a single deliverable. She was also allegedly involved in an illegal lobbying effort by the Lockheed Martin Corporation.
The Air Force has direct involvement with two legs of the nuclear triad, which refers to the three ways the United States is able to fire nuclear weapons. The service manages nuclear-tipped bombs and air-launched missiles for long-range bombers and ground-based inter-continental ballistic missiles that can hit targets around the globe from their silos around the American northwest.
Over the next 30 years, it will be directly involved in a $1 trillion nuclear modernization plan — a plan that will also significantly affect the work and funding for the labs Wilson previously worked for. Many have questioned this nuclear modernization plan and how much, if any, of it is necessary.
So, with Pres. Trump’s commitment to “drain the swamp,” senators should closely examine Wilson’s past work with the nuclear labs and whether she would recuse herself from decisions involving her former clients to prevent a conflict of interest.
A mere one day after Wilson left the House of Representatives in 2009, she signed a contract with Sandia National Laboratories, a New Mexico-based lab that works on maintaining the U.S. nuclear arsenal. While federal law prohibits Members of Congress from lobbying for one year, it does not include the myriad other ways former Members of Congress can use their experience and contacts to benefit industry.
Also known as SNL, the U.S. government owns the lab and funds it with taxpayer dollars. However, a private contractor called the Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiarity of Lockheed Martin, manages and operates the facility.
Wilson went on to establish contracts with three other nuclear facilities: Los Alamos National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Nevada National Security Site. In total, these contracts were worth $450,000 between 2009 and 2011.
However, a 2013 investigation by the by the Department of Energy Inspector General into the administration and management of the consulting agreement could find no documentation of the services she had agreed to provide under those deals. The National Nuclear Security Administration, responsible for the safety and security of America’s nuclear weapons, among other tasks, requested the review.
The contractors in charge of the work at the four nuclear facilities ultimately repaid the almost half a million taxpayer money spent on Wilson’s alleged consulting services. However, Wilson’s company, of which she was the sole employee, kept all of the funds it had already received through the deal — for doing who knows what.
The review of Sandia’s documentation also unearthed the lab’s strategy to lobby government officials for a contract worth $2.4 billion per year. But there was a catch.
Sandia Corporation used taxpayer funds to do so, which was not only morally reprehensible, it was illegal. The federal employees who oversaw Sandia Corporation alleged that Wilson had come on board to work on this plan specifically.
Investigators were not able to confirm if or how she was involved in the scheme. “Sandia Field Office alleged that SNL impermissibly attempted to influence an extension to the Sandia Corporation contract and engaged Ms. Wilson in these activities,” the final report simply stated.
The Senate Armed Services Committee should clarify Wilson’s involvement, if any, in the Sandia Corporation’s illegal lobbying strategy.
On top of that, while the Department of Energy’s top watchdog was investigating Wilson’s contracting documentation — or lack thereof — officials appointed her to an advisory panel to review the effectiveness of the National Energy Laboratories. This included examinations of two of the labs Wilson previously worked for.
The Project on Government Oversight raised concerns about her appointment at the time, given the obvious conflict of interest. Unsurprisingly, the panel’s final review found the main problem facing the labs was excessive government oversight, which would be funny if it weren’t so sad.
Wilson’s past involvement with the nuclear labs is not necessarily disqualifying for the position of Air Force Secretary, but the Office of Government Ethics and the Senate should ensure that her ties to the nuclear labs will not improperly influence her decision-making.
Lydia Dennett is an investigator for the Project On Government Oversight, where this article originally appeared.