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Senator Elizabeth Warren targets Pentagon with new ethics proposal

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Democratic presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren. (John Minchillo/Associated Press)

Senator Elizabeth Warren released a plan Thursday aimed at tightening ethics standards at the highest levels of the Pentagon, targeting what she called the “revolving door” of former officials who return to lobby for lucrative Defense Department contracts on behalf of companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

It’s the latest in a series of detailed policy proposals from the Massachusetts senator as she tries to separate herself from an increasingly crowded field of Democratic presidential candidates.

“There are talented and patriotic Americans who work in the defense industry,” Warren wrote on the Medium website, which has become a favored vehicle for releasing new proposals. “But today, the coziness between defense lobbyists, Congress, and the Pentagon – what former President Dwight D. Eisenhower called the military-industrial complex – tilts countless decisions, big and small, away from legitimate national security interests, and toward the desires of giant corporations that thrive off taxpayer dollars.”

Warren’s plan, which she is set to introduce as legislation with Representative Jackie Speier of California, would impose a four-year ban on “giant” contractors hiring senior defense officials or former defense employees who managed their contract.

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Another provision would extend the so-called cooling-off period prohibiting lobbying activities by former generals to four years. Contractors also would be required to submit reports on the former Defense Department staff they employ.

The bill also would ban ownership of defense contractor stock by Defense Department officials.

“This one is a no-brainer,” Warren wrote of the stock provision.

She also would seek to curb the influence of foreign governments on the US military by limiting the ability of certain high-level US officials from the Defense, State and Treasury departments, as well as the White House, from seeking work with a foreign government after their service has ended.

The new bill is an extension of a major ethics push Warren began last summer, when she introduced a bill that would have imposed new rules on federal judges and permanently banned lobbying activities by former high-ranking government officials.

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In her post, Warren singled out President Trump’s pick for secretary of defense, former Boeing executive Patrick Shanahan, slamming what she said were his “obvious conflicts of interest” after working for decades at the nation’s second-largest defense contractor.

Warren also took aim at massive Department of Defense spending on corporate contracts, and argued her proposals would cut the “bloated” defense budget.

“Defense contractor influence is a big part of how we ended up with a Pentagon budget that will cost more this year than Ronald Reagan spent at the height of the Cold War,” she wrote. “In 2017, Lockheed alone received more than $35 billion in taxpayer dollars from defense contracts. That’s more than the federal government spent on the entire budget for NASA.”


Christina Prignano can be reached at christina.prignano@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @cprignano.