Ethics loophole does not excuse abuse of position

Earlier this year, Richard Perle, the chairman of the Defense Policy Board, a civilian advisory group to Donald Rumsfeld and the Pentagon, came under fire from critics who said he had a conflict of interests by representing companies that had major business interests with the Defense Department. The Pentagon inspector general’s report on this matter absolved chairman Perle of any wrongdoing Monday, citing loopholes in the ethics laws. Those in charge of the United States’ defense should not be relying on loopholes to escape allegations of ethics violations.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Perle briefed investors during a Goldman Sachs conference call on ways that the company could profit from conflicts in North Korea and Iraq after he had received top-secret briefings on these conflicts just weeks earlier.

The inspector general’s report said, “Mr. Perle arguably represented Global Crossing Ltd. and satellite producers Loral Space & Communications Ltd. in a particular matter which is pending in the department or agency of the government in which such employee is serving.”

In all, the inspector general’s report concluded that Perle violated no ethics laws since he was chairman for less than 60 days. The Pentagon ethics laws state that if the head of an advisory board does not serve for more than 60 days, they can not be guilty of violating ethics laws with conflict of interest because they did not spend enough time in office to influence defense policy for personal or professional gain.

This leaves one to wonder how long does a person have to be in office to violate an ethical law? As the chair of a committee that has influence on multibillion-dollar military contracts, it is apparent that a person needs very little time to assert his or her influence and leak crucial information that can lead to increased profits for the company that he or she is working for.

According to the Associated Press, Congressman John Conyers Jr., who requested the Perle inquiry, is disappointed about these “conflict-of-interest loopholes” and has said that he will introduce legislation to address them.

It is apparent from this controversy, along with rumors of shady dealings with Halliburton, that the Pentagon needs to overhaul its ethics laws to make sure that it is immune to charges of playing to special interests. These kinds of practices ultimately hurt the Pentagon and the taxpayer as companies with an inside track in the Pentagon operate with an advantage that denies true market competition and too often leads to the taxpayer paying exorbitant prices for military hardware. Ethics and competition may be present in the business world, but when it comes to the people charged with protecting America’s citizens, they seem to be lacking.