Contractor has strong ties at Defense

January 10, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

SAN DIEGO -- With the likely elevation of Bobby Ray Inman to secretary of defense, an innovative, employee-owned company specializing in military contracts will strengthen what are already some of the most powerful connections Washington has to offer.

If he is confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Inman would become the fourth member of the board of directors of the San Diego-based Science Applications International Corp. to get a top Pentagon post within the past year.

Since last spring, two other board members have become deputy and assistant defense secretaries, while a third was tapped as a contracting deputy and is responsible for monitoring contracts between the government and private companies.

The company's close ties to the new Pentagon leadership illustrate the tight web of relationships inside the modern military-industrial complex, where defense experts frequently move back and forth between the public and private sectors.

But even by those standards, the connection between Science Applications and the federal government is extraordinary.

Some defense analysts attributed the elevation of Science Applications directors to the company's status as a premiere defense research company, noting that the 16,000-employee organization has more government contracts -- 4,000 -- than any other in the nation.

With its reputation for aggressiveness and innovation, their argument goes, it is only logical that the company should attract some of the industry's best and brightest -- who also would be strong candidates for top Defense Department jobs.

But others contended that, given the potential for conflicts of interest -- or even the appearance of such conflicts -- the unusually powerful relationship bears watching.

"They're obviously a very influential company and they're a far-reaching company," said Keith Rutter, assistant director of the Project on Government Oversight, a Washington public interest group. "They have a lot of political influence."

Mr. Inman has said he would not comment about any defense-related issues until after the confirmation process. Likewise, Pentagon administrators were reluctant to discuss the relationship between the Defense Department and the company.

The company's ties to Washington are indeed impressive.

* Mr. Inman, a board member for 12 years, was nominated last month by President Clinton to run the Pentagon. A retired Navy admiral, he headed the National Security Agency under President Jimmy Carter and served as deputy director of the CIA under President Ronald Reagan.

At Science Applications, he has chaired the board's executive ,, committee. He is expected to tender his resignation if his Pentagon appointment is confirmed by the Senate.

* William J. Perry was a board member for six years before he was tapped last year to join the Pentagon in the No. 2 slot as deputy secretary of defense. He was considered a candidate for the top job before Mr. Clinton chose Mr. Inman to succeed Defense Secretary Les Aspin.

* John M. Deutch was a board member for 13 years but left to become undersecretary of defense for acquisition and technology.

In that role, he has developed a high public profile for his work researching the causes of the mysterious post-Persian Gulf war maladies reported by men and women who served in the conflict and for renegotiating the contract for development of the troubled C-17 cargo plane.

* Anita K. Jones, a board member for six years and former professor and chairwoman of the department of computer science at the University of Virginia, serves as a contracting deputy at the Pentagon under Mr. Deutch. She reviews defense contracts to ensure that private companies meet Pentagon standards.

Mr. Perry, Mr. Deutch and Ms. Jones, who have long been considered experts in the defense field, were nominated by the White House and came to the Pentagon to serve under Mr. Aspin. The three have been considered key players in Mr. Aspin's attempts to retool the military.

Under government procurement rules, Science Applications will not be precluded from continuing to bid for military contracts.

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