Mattis served on the board from 2013 to 2017 before joining the Trump administration.
Former defense secretary Jim Mattis has been elected to the board of General Dynamics, the company announced after a vote on Wednesday, allowing him to reclaim a powerful position at the top of America’s defense industry.
The announcement comes at a time when General Dynamics ― one of the last military-industrial conglomerates remaining from the industry’s Reagan-era heyday ― is trying to remake itself for the information age. Last year, the company sealed a deal to buy CSRA, a massive Beltway IT contractor, for almost $10 billion. It is the fourth-largest corporate recipient of U.S. government contract dollars.
“Jim is a thoughtful, deliberate and principled leader with a proven track record of selfless service to our nation,” chief executive Phebe Novakovic said in a statement. “We are honored to have him on our board.”
Mattis’s compensation and benefits package is to be detailed in a later financial disclosure form.
Mattis is the latest influential military official to join a major defense contractor, part of the “revolving door” between business and government that has long concerned government ethics experts.
A report released late last year by the Project on Government Oversight found that defense contractors had hired at least 50 high-level government officials since Trump became president, among more than 600 such instances in the past decade.
Mattis began his first stint on the board of General Dynamics in 2013 after more than 40 years with the U.S. Marine Corps. From 2010 to 2013, he led U.S. Central Command, which spearheads the military’s operations in the Middle East, including in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.He commanded a rare respect bordering on reverence among many members of the armed services, and cultivated a public image defined by uncompromising toughness.
He never married, and is often described as a “warrior monk” for his bookish devotion to military strategy and history. He adopted the call sign “chaos,” which stands for “Colonel Has An Outstanding Solution,” he told an audience at the National Harbor in 2017.
Mattis led the Defense Department during the first two years of Trump’s presidency. Trump frequently expressed admiration for him in public, referring to him as one of “my generals,” and calling him by his other nickname, “Mad Dog” Mattis.
Behind the scenes, Mattis often seemed to check the president’s instincts. According to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s 2018 book “Fear: Trump in the White House” Mattis once told an associate that “we’re not going to do any of that. We’re going to be much more measured,” after Trump had told the defense secretary by phone to kill Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.Mattis left government for the second time in December. He had clashed with the president over a plan to withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan, saying Trump should appoint someone who was “better aligned” with his views.
As defense secretary, he led numerous initiatives designed to make the Defense Department more efficient and business-friendly, an approach that was helpful to defense contractors such as his former employer.
When Mattis became defense secretary in early 2017, he resigned from numerous positions in the private sector — including one at the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank — and a handful of charities. When he stepped down from General Dynamics’s board, he promised to divest all stock associated with his seat. He also forfeited stock holdings and options that had not yet vested at the time he rejoined the government, which must have added up to several hundreds of thousands of dollars, based on financial disclosure forms.Additionally, Mattis pledged that he would not “participate personally and substantially in any particular matter that to my knowledge has a direct and predictable effect on the financial interests of General Dynamics” as defense secretary until he had divested of his holdings or obtained a written waiver, according to an ethics pledge he submitted at the time.
Mattis also promised not to participate personally or substantially in any matter concerning the now-disgraced Silicon Valley blood testing start-up Theranos, in which he was an investor. According to his ethics pledge at the time, Mattis was not required to divest of his Theranos stock. The company began plans to dissolve in September.
Board members at General Dynamics are given lucrative stock holdings and options, and are often closely involved in major business decisions. Board member responsibilities at General Dynamics include “reviewing, approving and monitoring the company’s business strategies, annual operating plan and significant corporate actions,” according to the company’s corporate governance guidelines. Board members also have responsibility for “advising and counseling management” and ensuring that appropriate ethics policies are in place with respect to the company’s relationship with customers.Separately, a new provision included in the National Defense Authorization Act for 2018 prohibits retired officials such as Mattis from engaging in “lobbying activities with respect to the Department of Defense.” Such lobbying activities could include “any oral or written communication … to a covered executive branch official or a covered legislative branch official that is made on behalf of a client” with regard to a range of federal policies.
Currently, six of General Dynamics’s 12 board members are former high-ranking government officials.
- Rudy deLeon served as deputy secretary of defense from 2000 to 2001;
- retired Navy Adm. Cecil Haney led the U.S. Strategic Command from 2013 to 2016;
- retired Air Force Gen. Lester Lyles led the Air Force Material Command from 2000 to 2003;
- retired British Army Gen. Peter Wall was chief of the general staff for the British Army from 2010 to 2014; and
- chairman and chief executive Novakovic has worked for the CIA, the Defense Department and the Office of Management and Budget.
General Dynamics is not the only company packing its board with former military and government officials. Former deputy undersecretary of defense Bob Work joined Raytheon’s board in 2017, and Nikki Haley, Trump’s former ambassador to the United Nations, joined Boeing’s board this year.
Big tech companies have benefited from the revolving door as well; Amazon recently hired Victor Gavin, the former deputy assistant secretary of the Navy, to assist with its cloud computing business. (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
AWS was originally awarded this contract but Safra Catz (co-CEO Oracle) is on Trump advisory committee. She planted the seeds that Bezos can’t be trusted due to his ownership of Washington Post and what that publication has been saying about Trump.
Fully expect Oracle to make a huge run at this business. And don’t forget, Oracle was started as a company from an initial contract with the CIA. There’s not a single tech company more aligned with the US government than Oracle.
It’s ironic on so many levels. The first level is, of course, the irony of refusing to do military work at a company that only exists because of defense contractors working on a military project (ARPANET).
More generally, the irony is that the U.S. military has made a far greater positive contribution to the world than Google. Under the Pax Americana, we have seen the greatest number of people rise out of abject poverty in human history. The stable, liberal world order that has been beneficial to so many people has been bankrolled by the U.S. and backed by the U.S. military.
This world where people in India and Pakistan are using Gchat Facebook to talk to each other instead of waging nuclear war against each other is not the result of Google or Facebook. It’s not the result of humans evolving beyond their tendencies towards warfare. It’s because the U.S. military has made entire classes of armed conflicts untenable... This country only exists because of Puritan persecution in England, but you don’t see me thanking the Anglican church for America. Bad means result in good ends all the time; that doesn’t mean we should celebrate bad means.I agree that the US military has made positive contributions to the world, but I don’t think it’s the main source of the Pax Americana — strong international bodies (NATO, UN, &c), the tendency for democratic nations (the dominant sort in the 20th century) to avoid wars with each other, and advancements in crop science are all individually more responsible for the relative global stability of the last 30 years.
I don’t deny that the military had a role (usually financial) in any or all of the above, but I wouldn’t call it a causal role: virtually all academic research funding hits the defense world eventually (“food security”, “ecological security”, &c), especially during the Cold War. That’s the result of political contrivances, not any sort of deep connection between the U.S. military and scientific progress.
Finally, I wonder about drawing comparisons between the past U.S. military and current ventures. The Google engineers in question probably wouldn’t be designing waterproof radios for fastboats; they’d be training models that “recognize” “terrorists” from afar and systems that pass that information to drones for remote killing. Put another way: the shift away from conventional warfare changes the moral dimensions of working for the military.
.. It’s not that NATO and the UN are powerful or effective as bodies independent of the US, it’s that their greatest achievements have occurred without direct US military intervention.NATO and the UN both benefit (and suffer) from the power and presence of the US military, but their proudest moments (the German economic miracle, smallpox eradication, historic decreases in child mortality and malnutrition) all stem from smart policy and liberal principles, not from the looming threat of American tanks... The fact that people are spurred into action by violence doesn’t mean that we ought to be violent, or that violence is even the most effective way to get people to act in the way you want.
.. At the risk of sort of invoking Godwin, I’m curious if you’d apply the same logic to Stalin and the fall of Nazi Germany. What does the victory in the Battle of Berlin say about whether Stalin was good or bad?.. an academic institution is a public institution focused on advancing science and teaching it to the public. A corporation or contractor is in it for the profit. Notably, the academics involved were able to publish their work as the TCP/IP standard (and others), and anyone was able to use it.If it had actually been military contractors we would not have the internet as it is today... Cerf (Stanford) and Kahn (DARPA) designed TCP. But BBN (now a subsidiary of Raytheon) built ARPANET... The best the military does is keep stability. Google changed everything. One is static; the other, change. I don’t see them as comparable at all.Anyway I’ve heard it said that the container ship has done more to lift the world standard up, than all the political action of the last 1000 years. By distributing goods to all the corners of the world at a cheap price.
.. > Under the Pax Americana, we have seen the greatest number of people rise out of abject poverty in human history. The stable, liberal world order that has been beneficial to so many people has been bankrolled by the U.S. and backed by the U.S. military.It’s perfectly coherent to support the overall ends (relative world peace) and oppose the means (extrajudicial drone strikes, invasion of Iraq, etc.)
A work boycott from the Group of Nine is yet another hurdle to the company’s efforts to compete for sensitive government work.
.. Earlier this year, a group of influential software engineers in Google’s cloud division surprised their superiors by refusing to work on a cutting-edge security feature. Known as “air gap,” the technology would have helped Google win sensitive military contracts. The coders weren’t persuaded their employer should be using its technological might to help the government wage war, according to four current and former employees. After hearing the engineers’ objections, Urs Hölzle, Google’s top technical executive, said the air gap feature would be postponed, one of the people said. Another person familiar with the situation said the group was able to reduce the scope of the feature... The act of rebellion ricocheted around the company, fueling a growing resistance among employees with a dim view of Google’s yen for multi-million-dollar government contracts. The engineers became known as the “Group of Nine” and were lionized by like-minded staff. The current and former employees say the engineers’ work boycott was a catalyst for larger protests that convulsed the company’s Mountain View, California, campus and ultimately forced executives to let a lucrative Pentagon contract called Project Maven expire without renewal.