President-elect Barack Obama, trying to enforce strict rules on special-interest influence in his administration, butted up against what some said was inevitable: The perfect person for a top Pentagon post recently lobbied for a major defense contractor.
Viewing it as a crucial selection, Obama picked William J. Lynn III, senior vice president for Raytheon Co., as the No. 2 at the Defense Department, Obama aides said Thursday.
Lynn's credentials appear ideal for the deputy secretary post: a deep resume that includes Clinton administration service as the Pentagon's top financial officer and overseer of strategic planning, six years on the staff of Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and honors for his efforts to improve defense accounting practices.
That he also has been a well-known lobbyist for years underscores a common, revolving-door scenario in Washington, and appears at odds with the spirit of Obama's self-imposed rules to distance his administration from corporate influence peddlers.
Until July, Lynn was registered to lobby on behalf of Raytheon before Congress and the administration, representing the defense giant on a range of military and intelligence and budget matters.
"We are aware that Mr. Lynn lobbied for Raytheon and are working with Mr. Lynn to craft a role for him that is consistent with the president-elect's high standards while balancing the need to fill this critical national security position," said Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor, who volunteered the information on Lynn's lobbying background.
Lynn was "highly recommended from experts across the political spectrum," to be the top civilian under Defense Secretary Robert Gates, he said.
Vietor declined to discuss whether Lynn would have to remove himself from any policy matters.
As Raytheon's senior vice president for government operations and strategy, Lynn's responsibilities included company liaison to the federal government, and state and local government relations, according to the Raytheon Web site.
Obama stressed in his campaign that no political appointees in his administration would be permitted to work on areas that "directly and substantially related to their prior employer for two years."
Although Lynn withdrew his lobbying registration last summer, meaning he can't personally contact Congress or administration officials for Raytheon, he retained his same job and title, and lobbying rules would not preclude his Raytheon colleagues from continuing their lobbying.
In his presidential campaign Obama vowed to end the days of lobbyists setting the agenda in Washington. He banned lobbyist contributions to his campaign and set unprecedented restrictions on lobbyists who came to work on his transition staff.
When political appointees leave his administration, they will be banned from lobbying the executive branch during the remainder of the administration, he has said.
If the Senate confirms Lynn, it will be hard for him to avoid defense issues related to Raytheon, said James Thurber, who teaches lobbying at American University.
"I think it's impossible in our system not to have people that have been in the advocacy system," he said. "They're the people who know the issues and have the expertise."
But he said that most important is public disclosure of those connections.
Bill Buzenberg, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity said although Lynn is well-credentialed, his appointment is troubling.
"He left public service and went into lobbying for one of the largest defense contractors in the nation," he said. "Even if he's completely above board and ethical, it raises questions about his loyalty."
Waltham, Mass.-based Raytheon, with 2007 sales of $21.3 billion, specializes in worldwide defense and homeland security-related markets.
Obama's transition office announced the names of several other Pentagon selections on Thursday, including Michele Flournoy for the No. 3 job as policy chief. A Clinton-era official at the Pentagon, Flournoy has been the co-chair of Obama's Pentagon transition team.