July 11, 2023

At Hearing, Warren Secures Ethics Commitment Joint Chiefs of Staff Nominee General Brown; Reiterates Concern over Senior Military Holds

General Brown: “I don't intend to pursue opportunities in the defense sector or as a lobbyist upon retirement from military service.”

Hearing Exchange on Ethics Commitment (YouTube) | Hearing Exchange on High Level Military Holds (YouTube)

Washington, D.C. – At a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) secured ethics commitments from General Charles Q. Brown, Jr., President Biden’s nominee to be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. When asked if he would agree not to become a defense industry lobbyist or receive compensation from a defense contractor for four years General Brown said he did not “intend to pursue opportunities in the defense sector or a lobbyist upon retirement from military service.” Senator Warren secured a similar commitment from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at his confirmation hearing. 

General Brown also spoke to the effects Senator Tommy Tuberville’s (R-Ala.) holds on over 250 senior military nominations have on retention across the services and the burden they pose on military families. “We will lose talent,” General Brown told Senator Warren. “The member may want to serve, but the spouses and the families get a huge vote in why we continue to be able to serve.” 

Transcript: To Consider the Nomination of General Charles Q. Brown, Jr., USAF for Reappointment to the Grade of General and to Be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services
July 11, 2022

Senator Elizabeth Warren: Thank you Mr. Chairman. Good to see you again, General Brown, and congratulations on your nomination. Mrs. Brown, welcome here today.

The Department of Defense is full of talented, patriotic leaders who are working hard to keep us safe. Even so, the Pentagon remains too cozy with powerful defense companies that are reaping huge profits from hundreds of billions of dollars in government contracts.  

When our top leaders leave government service and head straight to big paydays on the boards of the Department of Defense’s largest contractors or as defense industry lobbyists, it sends the message that the Pentagon is for sale. 

During his confirmation hearing before this committee, Secretary Austin publicly committed not to go to work as a lobbyist for defense contractors after he leaves his current job.  I appreciate this commitment, and I believe that the American people do as well. 

If confirmed, General Brown, you will be the president’s top military advisor, and your actions will set the tone for the entire armed forces. So I’d like to hear you make those same commitments.

General Brown, if confirmed, will you commit to not going to work as a lobbyist for a defense contractor for four years after you leave government service?  

General Charles Q. Brown: Senator, I'm sensitive to the perceptions of conflict of interest that we discussed in your office and I don't intend to pursue opportunities in the defense sector or a lobbyist upon retirement from military service. My passion is in leadership and mentoring and that's where I want to focus my efforts after military service – building the next generation of leaders.

Senator Warren: I appreciate that and I will take that as a yes. Let’s do the second part, even though I think you got the answer in there.

Lobbying isn’t the only way that former officials cash in on their government service. Giant defense contractors frequently hire former top Pentagon officials in non-lobbying roles or add them to their corporate boards. The former Pentagon official gets paid handsomely, and the defense contractor touts their name in order to get more contracts. General Dunford, the former chairman of the joint chiefs, joined the board of Lockheed Martin, DoD’s top contractor, less than 5 months after leaving government service. So far, he’s received nearly $1 million in compensation in that role. By contrast, Secretary Austin pledged not to join the board of one of these companies when he left government.

General Brown, if confirmed, do you commit to not receive compensation from a defense contractor for four years, including compensation for being a board member?

General Brown: I’d give the same answer I just highlighted. 

Senator Warren: Okay, I’ll take that as a yes then. You know, it's really important. I'm going to take you at your word on this and the American people and I will hold you to it. This is a matter of personal integrity, something that I know is very important to you.

I want to close and use our remaining time by asking about the impact of the holds on the promotions and assignments of senior military officers that the Senator from Alabama has imposed. The families of these service members are held at a standstill, they’re unsure about where they should enroll their kids in school or whether they need to arrange a move across the country or even somewhere else around the world.

General Brown, can you just spend a minute here and talk to us about the impact that these holds are having on our military families?

General Brown: There are several factors that I think about as we're going through this and how we are working to mitigate the challenges associated with the holds. There's aspects of readiness and the transition in leadership for our young servicemembers to know who is in the position of leadership that is qualified, that has the experience to be there and not – in some cases – putting a – You know, we have strong deputies, but at the same time, they don't have the same level of experience going forward. 

In addition to the senior officers, there's a whole chain of events that go down to our more junior officers and that has an impact. It has an impact on their progression in their career field potentially because if one doesn't get promoted or move on, then they're blocking a spot for someone else. At the same time, we have several members who have served honorably and are ready to retire but they're going to in some cases stay with us to help us mitigate through that challenge. 

The area that hits us, I think that we do need to think about is how it impacts our families. Because it has an impact, not just for the senior officer, but you know, all their staff and all those below them. It has an impact. And as you highlighted, whether it's school, whether it's employment, or the fact that they've already sold their home because they thought they were going to move and now we're living in temporary quarters, that creates a challenge. 

The last thing I’d highlight on that is my concern for future retention, because we have more junior officers who now will look up and say, if that's the challenge that we have to deal with in the future, I may not want to – I'm gonna balance between my family and serving in a senior position and we will lose talent because of those challenges. The spouse network is alive and well and the spouses will compare notes. And you know, the member may want to serve, but the spouses and the families get a huge vote in why we continue to be able to serve and I thank my family for that opportunity to allow me to continue to serve.

Senator Warren: I see Mrs. Brown nodding her head on this as well. If the Senator from Alabama continues his reckless action, he will soon be holding 650 leaders who have served their country honorably hostage. And as you rightly point out, that has effects on many more of the best and brightest who have volunteered to serve our nation. 

I heard the Senator say as he concluded his questions that if there was anything he could do to help you in your actions and help the service that he would be glad to do it. What he could do to help is lift this stay before it does more damage to our country. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.