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How Retired Military Officers Make Bank As Pentagon 'Mentors'

First Posted: 03/18/10 06:12 AM ET Updated: 05/25/11 03:40 PM ET

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The F-22 Raptor

The revolving door is spinning rapidly for retired admirals and generals, more than 125 of whom have been re-hired by the Pentagon to serve as "senior mentors" despite financial ties to companies seeking contracts from the Defense Department, according to an investigation by USA Today.

Participants in mentorship programs for various defense agencies are hired as independent contractors, thereby dodging ethics and disclosure requirements that apply to government employees:

"Mentors are not barred from lobbying the same officers they are advising, from advertising their military adviser role on company websites, or from taking commercial advantage of insights gleaned through their government work," USA Today reported.

Good-government groups say that while such arrangements are legal, they look real bad.

"You just don't know to what degree these mentors are really representing what's in the best interest of our national defense versus advancing capabilities that their companies are working toward," Mandy Smithberger, national security investigator for the Project on Government Oversight, told Huffington Post.

A POGO investigation from 2004 documented the revolving-door phenomenon and found 291 instances of high-ranking officials leaving government to serve as lobbyists, board members or executives at contracting firms. In seven years those firms spent hundreds of millions of dollars in lobbying and campaign donations, in turn receiving hundreds of billions in federal contracts.

"A contracting system where current and former public servants use their positions for private gain means powerful private corporations can rig the system in their favor," said the report. "This skewed process costs taxpayers, limits or eliminates competition from businesses that may be the best for the job, and results in flawed policies and bad procurement decisions.

Several retired officials interviewed by USA Today said they'd never use their mentoring position to peddle a product from their private-sector employer. But mentor Maj. Gen. Waldo Freeman told the paper he though that argument was "baloney" and said, "I think it's absolutely wrong for somebody to have one foot in both camps."

In some cases the mentorships pay double an officials' salary during his career -- and that's on top of six-figure pensions.

POGO's Smithberger said there is definitely need for further investigation, perhaps by the Defense Department's Inspector General. The DoD's Inspector General's office and the Standards of Conduct Office told Huff Post they saw nothing to investigate.

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