Homeland Security's Revolving Door

| Mon Jun. 19, 2006 4:36 PM EDT

On Sunday, Eric Lipton of the New York Times had an astonishing story about the legions of Homeland Security officials who were leaving their jobs to work as lobbyists for companies selling technology to DHS. Now technically, there are rules about what officials can and can't do:

The law that governs the so-called post-employment life for federal officials was enacted in 1962. It prohibits senior officials from "any communication to or appearance" before their former government department or agency on behalf of another for one year from the date they leave their job. There is also a lifetime ban on communicating with anyone at the department in connection with "a particular matter" in which the former official "participated personally and substantially."

A separate law prohibits certain former federal employees, like program managers or contracting officers, from accepting a job with a company they supervised for a year afterward if a contract involved exceeded $10 million. But as one would expect, there are all sorts of loopholes here. Michael J. Petrucelli, who was formerly acting director of citizenship and immigration services, apparently left his job and was hired within months as a lobbyist for GridPoint, which was trying to sell power-supply devices to the Coast Guard. Since the Coast Guard is technically a different department of DHS, Petrucelli was allowed to take the job. Another official—Tom Blank, the former number 2 at the Transportation Security Administration—seems to have skirted around ethics regulations simply by declining to sign official documents.

At this point, it's hard to believe that the Department of Homeland Security has accomplished much besides transfer billions of dollars to private corporations. Back in 2002, Brendan Koerner wrote a piece for this magazine on the corporations lining up outside DHS with their arms outstretched for "the biggest government bonanza since the Cold War." In itself, that's not a bad thing—so long as all these contracts are going to good use. But if contracts are being handed out on the basis of convenient connections and legalized graft, how likely is that? (Here's a partial answer.)

MORE: Justin Rood says that Lipton probably took some major risks in publishing this story—namely, he'll likely have a hard time finding sources among former DHS officials from here on out. Kudos to Lipton for writing the story anyway.