January 19, 2021

In Response to Senator Warren's Questions, Secretary of Defense Nominee General Lloyd Austin Commits to Recusing Himself from Raytheon Decisions for Four Years

Senator Warren has introduced bills to strengthen ethics and transparency at the Defense Department and across the Federal Government

Video of Exchange (Youtube)

Washington, DC - During today's Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) hearing, United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) questioned General Lloyd Austin, III, the nominee to be Secretary of Defense, on his commitment to recuse himself from all matters concerning Raytheon for four years.

In response to Senator Warren, General Austin committed to extend his recusal from Raytheon Technologies for four years and to not seek a position on the board of a defense contractor or become a lobbyist after his government service.

Senator Warren has proposed a number of legal changes to strengthen ethics at the Department of Defense (DOD). Senator Warren's Department of Defense Ethics and Anti-Corruption Act would block the revolving door between the Pentagon and giant defense contractors like Raytheon by prohibiting big defense contractors from hiring former senior DOD officials for four years after they leave government. The legislation is consistent with her sweeping Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act, the most ambitious anti-corruption legislation since Watergate.

U.S. Senate Armed Services 
Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Senator Elizabeth Warren: Thank you very much. Thank you.

General Austin, I very much appreciated the opportunity to speak with you a few weeks ago. And as I told you when we talked then, I believe we have to do a lot more to end the cozy relationship between the Pentagon and defense industry. And over the years, I have proposed a number of legal changes in this area.

Now, since 2016, you've served on the board of Raytheon Technologies and its predecessor, United Technologies, which is one of the largest defense contractors in the nation. I am very  pleased to hear that you've pledged that you will extend your recusal from matters involving Raytheon for four years, and that you are not going to seek a waiver from those recusals.

Do I have that right? 

General Lloyd J. Austin, III: Senator, I can make the commitment to you that I will extend my recusal for Raytheon, and I certainly appreciated the opportunity to discuss these issues with you.

As you are aware, what you've asked goes beyond what's required by law. And I'm making--

Senator Warren: Absolutely. 

General Austin: And I'm making this commitment because I recognize the unique circumstances here that you've highlighted. Raytheon is--

Senator Warren: Yeah-- I'm sorry go ahead. 

General Austin: Raytheon is one of the world's largest defense contractors, and I'm sensitive to the appearance, concerns that you raise in this particular situation with respect to the issue of seeking a waiver. I do not expect to do that or to need one, but if such an unanticipated circumstance were to arise, I would consider available alternatives to a waiver before seeking one and would consult very carefully with agency ethics officials. 

Senator Warren: Okay. 

General Austin: And if I'm privileged enough to be confirmed, I can pledge to you that I'll be mindful, not only of the legal requirements that govern my conduct but also of the appearances to ensure that the public has no reason to question my impartiality. And I'll consult with the DOD career ethics officials on these issues and will require every one that serves with me to ensure that public service is and will remain a public trust. 

Senator Warren: Well, I very much appreciate that, and if I can, let me just ask one more aspect of this. You know, I've also called for new laws to prevent contractors from hiring senior government officials who leave federal service for a period of years again to help eliminate the appearance of trading on government service to help improve-- the idea is to try to help improve public trust in our leaders. So, let me ask you about that after you leave. Are you willing to make any commitments on that?

General Austin: Well, I have-- I do not intend to seek employment as a lobbyist or sit on the board of a defense contractor, like Raytheon after my service. Quite frankly, I'll be too old to sit on a board of a defense contractor after my service, but I--

Senator Warren: Ah--

General Austin: But I have no intent to be a lobbyist as well. 

Senator Warren: Alright, I just want you to know that I really do appreciate that, General. Going above and beyond what federal law requires, as you are doing here, sends a powerful message that you are working on behalf of the American people and no one else.

Now, I want to try to focus, if I can, on defense spending, but before I do, I just want to say a very quick word about military housing. Two years ago, this committee heard horror stories from military families about mold, termites, lead paint, other terrible conditions at military houses managed by private, for-profit companies. The military has a responsibility to oversee these contracts and this committee passed some sweeping reforms increasing oversight powers, but I am still hearing from families who say that their situation is not substantially improving.  

So, General Austin, can I ask for your public commitment on two things: first to respond to my requests for information about what's going on, and second, the pledge that you're going to make fixing this problem a priority. 

General Austin: I absolutely will respond to your request for information, if confirmed. And this has been a priority of mine and will always be a priority of mine so I look forward to working with the services on this issue. I think, as I said earlier, in some cases, we've broken trust with some of our family members. 

Senator Warren: Thank you very much. I'm going to hold you to that commitment. I really appreciate it, General. 

A few weeks ago, Congress passed the annual defense authorization and appropriations bills that allocated over $740 billion dollars to the Department of Defense. Now, that's more than President Reagan spent during the height of the Cold War. It's more than the federal government spends on the rest of the discretionary budget combined. In fact, it's more than the next 10 nations combined spend on defense-and most of these countries are our allies.

The money that Congress appropriated a few weeks ago also comes on top of what we spent on two decades of endless wars in the Middle East that cost roughly $6.4 trillion dollars and killed more than 7,000 American servicemembers--and did very little to make America safer.

Now, General Austin, you've been nominated to lead the Defense Department, so I'm not expecting you to start out your job by turning down the money that Congress just gave you. But I want to ask you a different question: do you agree that protecting our nation is not just about how much money our nation spends on defense, but also about how we spend it and what specific challenges we focus on? 

General Austin: I do. As a Secretary of Defense, job one for me is the defense of this country, and we're going to do what it takes to make sure that we're successful at that. As we talked earlier, our strategy-- our resources ought to match our strategy and our strategy ought to match our policy. And so again, I think we have-- I have a requirement to be good stewards-- a good steward of our resources but you can count on me always asking for what we need to accomplish the strategy that has been laid out for us.

Senator Warren: Well, I appreciate the approach that looks at how we're spending that money and exactly what challenges we're focusing our money on. 

I see that I'm out of time, so I'm not going to get to ask you about the importance of investing in our diplomatic corps and making sure that we have adequate funding for the State Department in order to help you in the defense of our nation. I promise I'll send you some questions for the record about that. 

Thank you very much. 

General Austin: Easy answer for me, Senator. I think it is absolutely important that our State Department be resourced adequately. 

Senator Warren:Good. That's what I like to hear. Thank you, General.