"What can you do with a general, when he stops being a general?" crooned Bing Crosby in the 1954 movie "White Christmas." "Who's got a job for a general when he stops being a general?"
Alas, the answer, 58 years later, is now clear. Retired generals don't open ski resorts in Vermont. Instead, they hunker down in Washington as the paid employees of corporations that draw most of their income from the service branch in which the generals worked. Once there, they work to maintain a stream of funding from the public treasury.
The revolving door between government service and private companies for those with beribboned chests is now an entrenched feature of life in Washington, according to a new report from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a nonprofit government watchdog group.
Updating a 2010 Boston Globe report that documented the practice, CREW found that over the last three years, 70 percent of the 108 three-and-four star generals and admirals who retired "took jobs with defense contractors or consultants."
What's more, CREW found, some of these same retirees were then appointed to Pentagon advisory boards, such as the Defense Policy Board. The study did not cite examples of improper decision-making, but said the retired generals' advice to the Pentagon may not be "unbiased," due to their new financial interests.
The Pentagon's rules only require a one-year wait before retired generals can contact former colleagues still at the Pentagon on behalf of their new employer. But even before that brief period ends, they can provide useful advice to new bosses about how to tap into fresh revenue streams and tip them on upcoming contract opportunities.
As Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) put it during a 2009 hearing on Obama's nomination of former Raytheon executive William Lynn to become the deputy secretary of defense, "it's an incestuous business, what's going on in terms of the defense contractors and the Pentagon and the highest levels of our military."