Deborah Lee James, most recently a special advisor in the Trump Administration, will now hock her wares as a director on the board of leading technology corporation Unisys, headquartered just outside of Philadelphia. The company rakes in annual profits north of $150B selling software applications, information security, and cloud solutions to government agencies and other large companies.
Prior to her stint as a Trump appointee, James served as Secretary of the Air Force for just over three years. In the role, she made a name for herself by travelling prolifically on the taxpayer dime, revelling in her celebrity status with thousands of well-snapped selfies, and essentially ignoring any consequential issue unless it held the opportunity for political sunlight.
She also near enough ran the US Air Force straight into the ground. Flanked by a CMSAF who struggled to give straight answers, a CSAF who tossed aside the civil liberties of airmen while ignoring toxic commanders, and a VCSAF who waited until after retirement to acknowledge the worst pilot shortage in the service’s history, James failed to engage on foundational issues such as manpower, training, and the lawful exercise of command authority.
She instead busied herself with totally awesome tours of Air Force facilities, during which she thieved immeasurable time and resources from overworked airmen with “All Call” blabberfests where she spoke a lot but said precious little. Her signal achievement wasting three straight Congressional seasons trying to kill the A-10 after having her confirmation delayed over the same issue.
James left behind an Air Force smaller and less prepared for war than at any time in its history. It’s not clear how that legacy has prepared her to set pins in a bowling alley, much less run a large corporation.
But let’s face it, that’s not why she’s at Unisys. She’s there because she knows how to sell things to the government and how to lobby Congress, and Unisys sells things to the military services, CIA, FBI, and INS. The company has shelled out an average of $1M to lobbying firms over each of the past four years — cash it undoubtedly expects to conserve with an experienced and well-connected lobbyist already on the payroll.
It is no longer surprising or even unexpected that public servants — even those manifestly ungifted in basic management of organizations — graduate from the public payroll into lucrative positions that leverage their government connections. This is the standard grime of revolving door corruption we all presume can’t realistically be scrubbed off.
But it’s important that we retain, even in our collective apathy, the capacity for disgust.