Well, that escalated quickly.
Barely five months removed from his role as Air Force Chief of Staff, retired Gen. Mark Welsh has reportedly accepted a board membership with Northrop-Grumman, the nation’s third largest defense contractor. There he’ll fatten his personal holdings by hocking galactically priced gadgets for a company that grosses nearly $30B in annual weapon sales.
How will he be successful? Easy. By employing his personal influence with basically every general officer and senior civilian in the Air Force. After all, he promoted most of them. By calling upon personal and professional loyalty to secure meetings, generate conversations, and basically weasel his way into the daily discourse of the service he led. This is precisely why he was hired. He’s a professional salesman already, having successfully slung bureaucratic bullshit for decades. If he can do that, surely he can get Grumman an extra 5% return on already overpriced technology. Whether the nation needs the technology, whether it is the best technology, and whether it actually works as advertised … these questions are irrelevant. The military-industrial complex doesn’t operate on rational measurements. It operates on influence, which is why a star-wearing bullshit artist like Mark Welsh is the ultimate prize.
Some of you are asking “how is this legal?”
And you should be. It makes no sense that a member of the joint chiefs can retire and walk right back through the revolving door in less than six months. But sadly, federal law doesn’t prohibit what Welsh is doing. 41 USC Sec. 2101-2107, also known as the Procurement Integrity Act, intends to prohibit undue influence of just this sort, barring certain retired defense employees from receiving compensation from contractors for at least one year after leaving DoD. But the letter of the law only bars those who personally made procurement decisions. It leaves the door ajar for those who shaped, influenced, set the conditions for, and manufactured procurement decisions, but didn’t actually sign them with a blue or black pen. The door being ajar, plenty of generals are more than willing to coat themselves in enough slippery slime to glide right on through.
But in a sense, legality is the lesser inquiry. We should be asking “is this ethical?”
Clearly it isn’t. But then again, Mark Welsh never gave a toss for ethics. He gave the service “top marks” for ethics amid a gross display of decisional filthiness that broke the confidence of Congress in the Air Force’s ability to police sexual assault. Airmen continue to pay the price for that.
He protected and promoted fighter pilot cronies who demonstrated toxicity and lawlessness. The likes of James Post, Brian Hastings, and Robin Rand all ascended in stature under Welsh’s guiding hand despite his direct knowledge they’d behaved unethically and often illegally.
From his Chief of Staff bully pulpit, he encouraged the trampling of individual rights, telling wing commanders airmen had no expectation of privacy at any time on any communication medium.
The icing on this unethical shitcake was his blatant lie about morale before the Senate Armed Services Committee … an acid-dripping whopper for which the service’s sycophantic E-9 mafia rewarded him with pro forma regalia amid a mercilessly punctuated and crocodile-tear-laden goodbye. This served as evidence of the organizational sickness that metastasized during Welsh’s neglectful tenure. We’ve since learned that he never reviewed his own morale survey, conveniently misplacing it in the bureaucratic shuffle … and that he was simply repeating string-doll talking points from four years previous.
Most telling, Welsh led the charge to falsely frame the A-10 in an effort to free up more grimy cash for the F-35. When he sat in judgment for this in the Senate, he must have already realized none of what was happening mattered … because he’d certainly be invited to at least one corporate board immediately after retirement. Welsh successfully auditioned for this new job, and is now being richly rewarded.
This just reinforces everything negative airmen believe about general officers. That they make decisions with post-retirement jobs in mind. That they care more about the defense business than the Air Force’s mission and people. That they themselves have been captured by the defense industry and its massive, relentless influence operation.
But most damningly, that generals are insincere politicians and not to be trusted. All those years, Mark Welsh repeated talking points about knowing the story behind every airman and being willing to die for those wearing the same uniform. But time and again, when the chips were down, he did what was best for Lockheed, Boeing, and Northrop rather than what was best for his own flock. His pitiful tenure as CSAF, chased by his hiring as a defense lobbyist, underscores that what’s best for big defense business is not always or even usually in the best interest of airmen or the squadrons they comprise. The Mark Welsh Air Force is a crumpled, smoldering heap. The one thing it has left to give is money. Entered Northrop-Grumman and its newest board member.
Congress will never fix the larger problem illustrated here. But it can and should innovate a solution to this particular problem by passing a law prohibiting Mark Welsh from participating in any contract upon which he coordinated as CSAF. This should include the $80B B-21 program, which he hot-walked through Congress during his time in the seat.
Of course, Congress won’t do this. It’ll simply and silently congratulate a fellow politician on managing to cash in on decades of loyalty … to the defense industry.