Here’s a simple question: Suppose you hire a company to perform a service for you, because a trusted friend recommended them and, even though they’re not the cheapest option, you are assured that they are the best. Then, one day, you discover that the reason your friend recommended the company is because they bribed him to do so. The company misrepresented their prices to you, and are actually charging you more than they would charge other clients in your position. So much so, in fact, that you take them to court for fraud.
Undeterred, this same company then turns around and offers to sell you a trash compactor that will make your garbage far more manageable, a compactor that they haven’t built yet, mind you, but if you just pay them, they’ll make it completely to your specifications. Is there any chance you would trust them with your money again?
Apparently, if you’re the United States Federal Government, the first thing you’d do is reach for your checkbook and ask how much they want.
Or at least, so it would appear, given the federal government’s current relationship with defense contractor Lockheed Martin. Just this past Thursday, it was announced the U.S. Army would award Lockheed a $562 million contract for the ATACMS missile, a long-range guided missile that allegedly reaches further than the US Army’s current capability. Well, who could object, right? Given rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran, it only makes sense for the U.S. to have missiles that reach as far as possible.
And, in principle, there is nothing wrong with the project. But there is something very wrong with the fact that the Army is trusting Lockheed Martin to do it. Why? Because almost the exact scenario being described above may have already happened, which has, in fact, led to the United States government filing a lawsuit against Lockheed. In fact, like the scenario described above, this lawsuit is even also about waste disposal, but with a rather large twist: rather than run-of-the-mill trash, the U.S. was paying Lockheed to clean up nuclear waste, and instead of a trusted friend being bribed to recommend them, Lockheed bribed the executives at a company that it partially owned, and that was in charge of awarding the cleanup contract in the first place. Not to mention, according to the Department of Justice, Lockheed lied about how much profit they’d make on the contract in order to get a higher price from the government!
Lockheed, naturally, denies the allegations, and it is possible that the courts will vindicate them. However, at least for our purposes, the question of their guilt or innocence isn’t really the point. The question, instead, is this: when the legal arm of the executive branch is suing a company with an apparently earnest belief that they committed fraudulent actions, why should any other arm of the executive branch be willing to do business with that company, particularly over something as vital as national defense? Even to the most scrupulously honest firm, such a course of action would look very much like an excuse to be taken advantage of, and given the corrupt nature of government-corpoate relations, it’s hard to imagine the most scrupulously honest firms being involved.
Not to mention, Lockheed has already shown itself willing to bend the truth when it comes to another Defense Department project: the F-35 fighter. A 2018 story at The Drive, for instance, points out that Lockheed CEO Marillyn Hewson told President Trump that the F-35 fighter jet was literally invisible, even though this wouldn’t be true even if the jet worked. Which it doesn’t, and is, in fact, already so over-budget and unflyable that it’s been causing rising tensions between the Defense Department and Lockheed itself for over a year. In view of this, who is to say that a $500 million missile contract will actually produce anything of value?
But again, this is not just about Lockheed. It’s about a simple principle: the U.S. government, which is charged with protecting Americans, should not act with complete credulity toward entities that its own Department of Justice believes have engaged in unfair dealings with the government. If the people charged with protecting us can be taken for suckers, what hope is there for the rest of us. In the immortal words of President George W. Bush, “Fool me once, shame on…shame on you. You can’t get fooled again.”