Mattis replacement Shanahan may have conflicts of interest

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Trump has decided he had to exact revenge against General Mattis by booting him out the door (by Tweet of course) before he said he would be leaving, much the way he fired FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe a day before his full retirement could take effect.

According to The New York Times “Mattis had wanted to stay through a NATO defense ministers meeting scheduled for February, hoping to enshrine recent moves by the alliance to bulk up its security compact as a bulwark against Russia. But Mr. Mattis’s resignation letter did him no favors on that count: It had become hard to envision how he could continue for two months to represent a president whose own views toward Russia are far more benign.”

Mattis is being temporarily replaced by his deputy Patrick Shanahan. It remains to be seen what point of view he will bring to the NATO defense ministers meeting.

According to his Department of Defence biography Shanahan became the 33rd Deputy Secretary of Defense on July 19, 2017 and:

Before that he served as Boeing senior vice president, Supply Chain & Operations. A Washington state native, Mr. Shanahan joined Boeing in 1986 and spent over three decades with the company. He previously worked as senior vice president of Commercial Airplane Programs, managing profit and loss for the 737, 747, 767, 777 and 787 programs and the operations at Boeing’s principal manufacturing sites; as vice president and general manager of the 787 Dreamliner, leading the program during a critical development period; as vice president and general manager of Boeing Missile Defense Systems, overseeing the Ground-based mid-course Defense system, Airborne Laser and Advanced Tactical Laser; and as vice president and general manager of Boeing Rotorcraft Systems, overseeing the Apache, Chinook and Osprey. He previously held leadership positions on the 757 program, 767 program and in the fabrication division.

Mr. Shanahan is a Royal Aeronautical Society Fellow, Society of Manufacturing Engineers Fellow and American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Associate Fellow. He served as a regent at the University of Washington for over five years.

Mr. Shanahan holds a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Washington and two advanced degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: a Master of Science degree in mechanical engineering, and an MBA from MIT’s Sloan School of Management.

Daily Beast tells us that “Trump’s Incoming Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan Pushed Military to Buy Weapons It Didn’t Want” and that his corporate allies thrived during the Trump administration. They cite the example of Boeing, where Shanahan was a top executive landing a series of lucrative military contracts worth $20 billion, on top of the Chicago company’s previous deal to build aerial-refueling tankers and naval fighters for the Pentagon. The Daily Beast suggests that “a much smaller contract perhaps is the most troubling. On Dec. 21, Bloomberg reported that the Pentagon would request funding in the 2020 defense budget for a dozen upgraded F-15X fighters worth $1.2 billion. Boeing builds the 1970s-vintage, non-stealthy F-15 at its plant in St. Louis. The Air Force for years has said it does not want more F-15s, instead preferring to order F-35 stealth fighters from Lockheed for around the same price as the F-15X, per plane. But the Pentagon reportedly overruled the Air Force and added the new Boeing fighters to the budget.”

Shanahan said during his 2017 Senate confirmation hearing that technology, not strategy, is his expertise.

“I believe my skill set strongly complements that of Secretary Mattis.He is a master strategist with deep military and foreign policy experience…I bring strong execution skills with background in technology development and business management.”

— Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan

In his confirmation hearing he also complemented the work of Secretary Mattis:  “Most people kind of think of him in the context of being a … military leader and, you know, motivator. I’ve appreciated his real strength: He understands how to govern. He understands how government should work. He understands policy. He understands the law. He understands the value of relationships.” Washington Post

When Shanahan was appointed to the deputy position The Project On Government Oversight (POGO), a nonpartisan independent watchdog that, according to their website, “investigates and exposes waste, corruption, abuse of power, and when the government fails to serve the public or silences those who report wrongdoing” suggested he would face many conflicts.

In March 2017 in “Boeing Executive Named to Pentagon Will Face Many Potential Conflicts” they note that under President Trump, Shanahan would have been required to sign President Trump’s ethics executive order that prohibited him from working on matters related to former employers or clients for two years (our take on that here). President Trump’s EO includes a waiver provision that can be signed by the President or his designee. According to BOGO unlike the Obama pledge, the waiver provision did not include criteria for when a waiver can be granted or a requirement to publicly disclose the waiver.

Thus we don’t know whether Trump or Mattis held him to this ethical standard when he advocated for contracts going to Boeing.

BOGO also noted the potential for Anti-Taxpayer Policy Conflicts:

“Concerns about the revolving door between defense contractors and the Pentagon go beyond specific acquisition programs, however, and include policies that impact government oversight of companies’ operations. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Boeing is one of the top spenders on lobbying, ranking 7th. A review of Boeing lobbying disclosure forms filed for the last year reveal a number of defense policy areas that taxpayers should monitor for potential conflicts of interest.”

Back when he was appointed to be deputy two years ago BOGO questioned whether their were insurmountable conflicts in his holding this position:

“Efforts to drain the swamp and strengthen the integrity of Pentagon operations are severely undermined when defense contractor officials are named to top posts. Issuing Mr. Shanahan a waiver from the Trump executive order could defeat the purpose revolving door reforms, yet confirming him without a waiver and requiring himself to recuse himself from matters that affect Boeing could make it impossible for him to effectively serve in his position. Either way the military industrial complex is alive and well and of its executives are heading to run the Pentagon.”

He may still be a thorn in Trump’s side when the president tries to pursue his isolationist pro-Russian foreign policy if he really believes what he told the Senate during his confirmation hearing. The Daily Beast says:

It’s unclear whether Shanahan would urge Trump to be more respectful of America’s alliances. But Shanahan’s statements on ISIS, during his confirmation, seem to contradict Trump’s own position.

“I would consider success in defeating ISIS to be when the threat the group poses has been degraded to a point where it is localized and periodic and when it can be addressed as a law-enforcement issue by partner nations and forces without extensive assistance from the United States,” Shanahan said.

But in Shanahan, he does have a someone who is likely to share his interest in business. Trump has ordered diplomats to prioritize foreign sales of American-made arms. “Patrick has a long list of accomplishments while serving as Deputy, & previously Boeing,” Trump tweeted. “He will be great!”


I suppose that lining the pockets of Boeing by buying military hardware from them, and spending a mere $1.2 billion on planes the Air Force doesn’t want may not be a bad deal. The new non-stealthy F-15s the Air Force doesn’t need or want will no doubt be used for something.

Perhaps they can patrol the border with Mexico. This might be a more sensible use of $1.2 billion than spending the money on a useless border slat fence that smugglers can pass drugs through between the nine-inch openings.

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