US Air Force secretary nominee discloses financial details

Heather Wilson may face heightened scrutiny for her ties to defense contractors during her upcoming confirmation hearing this Thursday.

Heather Wilson formally nominated to lead Air Force.

by: Valerie Insinna

WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump’s pick for Air Force secretary will have to divest stock from 16 defense contractors, including Honeywell and Raytheon, if confirmed for the position, financial disclosure reports reveal.

While it is extremely common for political appointees for top Pentagon positions — many of whom come directly from industry — to have to sell stock and resign from their corporate jobs, Heather Wilson may face heightened scrutiny for her ties to defense contractors during her upcoming confirmation hearing this Thursday.

Wilson, an Air Force Academy graduate and former congresswoman, is the administration’s sole remaining service secretary nominee after candidates for the Army and Navy pulled out from the process. However, allegations that she dodged ethics rules could be a liability when she confronts the Senate Armed Services Committee this week.

In financial disclosure reports made available by the Office of Government Ethics, Wilson promised to resign from her current role as president the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, as well as positions on the boards of eight other businesses and organizations.

Most notably, she will give up her position on the board of directors of Raven Industries, which creates surveillance aerostats, blimps and balloons marketed to the U.S. military and government, and divest related stock.

Wilson and her husband will also sell off stock from 16 Defense Department contractors, including Raytheon, Honeywell, IBM, Intel, semiconductor firm Qorvo, and mining and energy businesses like Leucadia National Corp. and Husky Energy, according to the documents.

Lydia Dennett, an investigator for the Project on Government Oversight, told Defense News that she “didn’t see anything” in the financial disclosure documents “that was a huge red flag.” Nonetheless, the government watchdog organization has been engaging with SASC, providing members with questions about Wilson’s work with the government’s nuclear labs.

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As a Republican congresswoman who represented New Mexico from 1998 to 2009, Wilson served on the House Armed Services Committee and Energy and Commerce Committee. Immediately afterward, she was employed by Sandia Corp., a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin that runs the government-owned Sandia National Laboratories, which develops components used in nuclear weapons.

Although Wilson has said she didn’t personally engage in lobbying — which would have been illegal for one year after she left Congress — emails show that she played a critical role in helping Lockheed craft a strategy that allowed Sandia to retain its contract without having to rebid in a competitive environment, the Center for Public Integrity reported earlier this year. Lockheed paid $4.7 million in 2015 to settle allegations that it had used federal funds to illegally lobby on its behalf.

Wilson made almost half a million dollars working with government nuclear labs from 2009 to 2013, but an investigation by the Energy Department’s inspector general found no evidence that she had provided work. The private firms in charge of the labs reimbursed the government for most of that sum.

It’s unlikely that questions about Wilson’s employment history will derail her probable confirmation by the Senate, and nor should it, Dennett said. Still, SASC should press Wilson about her time with Sandia Corp. and what services she provided the government labs, Dennett added.

“[Wilson] hasn’t proven to be the best steward of money, in addition to generally showing a lack of interest of complying to oversight practices,” she said.

If confirmed, Wilson will serve in the Air Force’s top civilian position as the Pentagon invests about $400 billion a year into nuclear modernization, according to the Congressional Budget Office, potentially to companies for whom Wilson has worked.

The Air Force owns two legs of the nuclear triad, intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear-capable bombers, and plans to begin procuring new versions in the early 2020s. Two major nuclear programs are currently in source selection: the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, which will replace the Minuteman III ICBMs, and the long range standoff cruise missile. Lockheed Martin has expressed interest in bidding on both contracts.

Source:  Defense News

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