March 23, 2021

Warren Applauds Secretary Austin's Decision to Suspend Dozens of Pentagon Advisory Boards and Calls for Stronger Ethics Standards

Text of the Letter (PDF)

Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin praising his decision to suspend dozens of Defense Department advisory boards and relieve hundreds of appointees to these boards pending a "zero-based review." In the letter, Senator Warren also called for improvements as the Department of Defense (DoD) considers candidates for repopulating the boards that survive DoD's review. 

In the waning days of the Trump administration, acting defense Secretary Christopher C. Miller fired nine Defense Business Board members and "replaced them with 11 new appointments...aimed at installing Trump loyalists." He fired 11 more from the Defense Policy Board and replaced them with more partisan members, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Some of the appointments that Secretary Austin suspended included former President Trump's campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, David Bossie, who "was tapped to lead the effort to contest the election" that ultimately resulted on the January 6, 2020, attacks on the U.S. Capitol and Cory Mills, a columnist for the far-right Newsmax website. 

"These individuals had no business serving on panels designed to give independent, non-partisan advice. They also represent the latest in a long line of dubious appointments spanning several administrations. In recent years, appointees from both political parties have been revealed to have undisclosed conflicts of interest or made significant contributions to the campaigns of the President that appointed them. These conflicts of interest cast doubt on the impartiality of these advisory boards and their members' ability to provide truly independent advice and recommendations to DoD," wrote Senator Warren. 

As Secretary Austin begins to consider new board members and the rules under which they operate, Senator Warren urged him to consider several important needs, including to adopt all relevant provisions of her bill, the Department of Defense Ethics and Anti-Corruption Act,  including strict conflicts of interest and recusal requirements, limits on employment by and for a foreign government and foreign entities, and transparency and disclosure on lobbying of and by board members. Senator Warren also encouraged the appointment of diverse individuals to ensure that members understand the needs and experiences of all Americans.

In May 2019, Senator Warren introduced the Department of Defense Ethics and Anti-Corruption Act, legislation to limit the influence of contractors on the military, constrain foreign influence on retired senior military officers, and assert greater transparency over contractors and their interaction with the DoD.