Investigating the Acting Defense Secretary’s Ties to Boeing

Since Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan first entered government service in the summer of 2017 as deputy secretary of defense, there have been concerns about whether his more than three decades at Boeing, where he most recently served as senior vice president, would affect his work. American Oversight began looking into Shanahan’s Boeing ties late last year, and Politico reported today that Shanahan has been promoting his former employer at the Pentagon.

During his June 2017 confirmation hearing, Shanahan committed to divesting all financial interests related to Boeing with the exception of his executive retirement (which is allowed under federal ethics rules). He further committed to not deal with any Boeing-related matters unless cleared with the Office of Ethics, and to put screening mechanisms in his calendar to limit exposure to such matters.

But even with these commitments, the potential for ethical misconduct remains given the DOD’s extensive work with Boeing and the difficulty of Shanahan fully recusing himself — and some of his recent decisions have raised some questions. New Pentagon efforts announced since Shanahan’s tenure began would significantly benefit Boeing, including Boeing’s $3.9 billion Air Force One contract, finalized in July 2018. This week’s Politico report also says that Shanahan has repeatedly expressed bias in actions and comments regarding the F-15 and F-35 fighter jet programs.

In November 2018, about a month before Shanahan took over for former Secretary Jim Mattis, American Oversight filed seven Freedom of Information Act requests related to Shanahan’s ties to Boeing to shed light on whether Shanahan’s long history at the company has given Boeing undue influence. The requests target email communications between Shanahan and Boeing employees, information about ethics considerations related to his past employment, and records that could identify what policies were put in place to ensure Shanahan’s meetings are screened for Boeing involvement.

The FOIAs also include a request for information about Boeing’s involvement in the so-called Space Force, a proposed new branch of the military that Shanahan, who reportedly is in the running to be Mattis’ permanent replacement, has been advocating to create. As of January 2, DOD has claimed that they could find no records related to this request.

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