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Security aids switch to lobbying { April 29 2003 }

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April 29, 2003
Former Domestic Security Aides Switch to Lobbying

WASHINGTON, April 28 — When Tom Ridge arrived here after the Sept. 11 attacks and opened the White House Office of Homeland Security, the former Pennsylvania governor quickly surrounded himself with a group of trusted deputies, many of them drawn from the staff he assembled as governor.

But when Mr. Ridge was sworn in this year as the first secretary of homeland security, some of his inner circle did not follow. Instead, they emerged as lobbyists whose corporate clients want contracts from Mr. Ridge's multibillion-dollar agency.

Lobbying disclosure forms filed in Congress show that at least four of Mr. Ridge's senior deputies at the White House are now working as "homeland security" lobbyists, as is a chief of staff from his days as Pennsylvania governor.

They are a small part of a booming new lobbying business in Washington that is focused on helping large corporations get a share of the the billions of dollars that will be spent by the vast domestic security bureaucracy that Mr. Ridge oversees.

The Homeland Security Department, with a budget of about $40 billion this year, and Mr. Ridge are obvious targets for an array of industries and their lobbyists in the capital.

"My one year is up, so I can lobby him and lobby the White House and lobby the Hill," said Rebecca L. Halkias, who was Mr. Ridge's legislative affairs director in the White House, referring to her former boss and to the one-year ban on contacts between former senior government officials and their colleagues.

Ms. Halkias, who also managed Mr. Ridge's Washington office when he was governor, is now a partner in a lobbying company, C2 Group, and Congressional filings show that her clients include Tyco Electronics, which would like to sell its wireless communications systems to government emergency response agencies.

"I'm not really comfortable talking about homeland security lobbying," Ms. Halkias said in a brief telephone interview, refusing to answer most questions. Asked if she was concerned about any conflict of interest in lobbying Mr. Ridge, she said, "This conversation is over," and hung up.

There is nothing unusual about former government workers lobbying their old colleagues. The surprising thing about Mr. Ridge's former aides is how quickly they chose to take up new careers as domestic security lobbyists.

Mr. Ridge's spokesman at the Homeland Security Department said that he was giving no special attention to products that were being promoted by lobbyists who had worked for him at the White House or in Pennsylvania. And there is no evidence that he is.

Brian Roehrkasse, a department spokesman, said that "all of the organizations that the Department of Homeland Security chooses to do business with will be judged upon the merits of their work, not on their relations with officials in the department."

Because lobbyists face few requirements to publicly disclosure their activities, it is difficult to determine exactly how large or how lucrative the domestic security niche of the business has become. But it is clearly growing fast., a campaign finance research group, said that an analysis of lobbyist registrations filed in Congress showed a large increase in the number of companies lobbying the government on issues involving domestic security or counterterrorism.

The analysis showed that as of last week, 569 companies and organizations had used the words "homeland," "security" or "terror" on the registration forms in describing their lobbying activities, up from 457 at the beginning of this year, and 157 at the beginning of 2002.

The boom in domestic security lobbying is viewed skeptically by government watchdog groups, which say they intend to monitor closely how the department spends its money and how Congress appropriates money to Mr. Ridge.

"Homeland Security appears to be viewed by the lobbying firms as a huge honey pot," said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a group that advocates restrictions on corporate lobbying.

"When you see lobbying firms starting to create whole new departments for the sole purpose of lobbying for homeland security contracts," Mr. Wertheimer said, "I think the signal for the American people is to watch out, to be vigilant that their taxpayer dollars for homeland security get the best possible results, as opposed to going to the best Washington lobbyists."

No lobbying firm is better connected to Mr. Ridge and the new department than Blank Rome Government Relations, the lobbying arm of a large Philadelphia law firm with the same name.

Three of Mr. Ridge's former aides, including Mark A. Holman, who was Mr. Ridge's chief of staff when he was governor of Pennsylvania and who joined him at the White House as deputy assistant to the president for homeland security, work for Blank Rome.

Lobbying records show that Blank Rome's domestic security clients include the Business Software Alliance, a trade association, and SAP Public Services, a division of Europe's largest software maker.

Blank Rome's Web site invites clients to a seminar next month at the Four Seasons Hotel in Philadelphia for the first in a series of "executive briefings on homeland security" featuring Mr. Holman and Carl M. Buchholz, who also worked in Mr. Ridge's White House office and is now executive partner at the law firm.

The two men will offer "their unique views of the decision-making process and the decision makers within the Department of Homeland Security." A spokesman for Mr. Buchholz said that he was not personally lobbying the department or Congress but was instead overseeing the work of other lobbyists.

Ashley Davis, a special assistant to Mr. Ridge in the White House who had also worked on his gubernatorial campaigns, joined Blank Rome as a lobbyist in February, with responsibility for domestic security issues. "When we left the White House, it was done very ethically and correctly," Ms. Davis said. "It was just a career decision on my part."

She said that she believed she had a responsibility to be selective about her lobbying clients. "We would never want to present anything that we felt wasn't of the highest caliber," Ms. Davis said, adding that she saw Mr. Ridge and others at the Homeland Security Department "quite a bit — all of us are very close friends with the governor and see him on many different occasions, not just professionally."

Mark Campbell, who succeeded Mr. Holman as Mr. Ridge's chief of staff in the governor's office but did not accompany Mr. Ridge to Washington, registered here last month as a "homeland security" lobbyist for Safeguards Technology, a New Jersey company that sells perimeter security systems.

A spokesman for Mr. Campbell's lobbying firm, Greenlee Partners of Harrisburg, Pa., said that Mr. Campbell expected to travel to Washington regularly from his home in Pennsylvania and had already met with former colleagues who now work at the Department of Homeland Security. The spokesman said he did not know if that included Mr. Ridge.

A number of public relations firms have a lobbying component to their work, but the domestic security team at Fleishman-Hillard may be the most star-studded.

The firm established a domestic security practice last December that includes Barry R. McCaffrey, the retired Army general who was the White House drug adviser in the Clinton administration, and Howard Safir, a former New York City police commissioner.

Fleishman-Hillard says its domestic security division is receiving "strategic counsel" from, among others, William S. Cohen, the former defense secretary; Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker; and Dr. Louis W. Sullivan, the former secretary of health and human services, all of whom are members of the firm's "International Advisory Board."

Similarly, several of the major law firms in Washington that specialize in lobbying have established large domestic security practices. McKenna Long & Aldridge, one of the largest and oldest lobbying firms in Washington, has established an 18-lawyer domestic security team.

The domestic security practice at the Washington law firm of Powell, Goldstein, Frazer & Murphy is led by Walter B. Shirk, a lawyer whose online résumé notes that he is the author of a recent newsletter article titled "Opportunity and Risk: Securing Your Piece of the Homeland Security Pie."

At Venable LLP, the law firm's 28-member domestic security practice includes James H. Burnley IV. a former transportation secretary; Daniel E. Lungren, a former Republican House member from California; and William P. Cook, a former general counsel of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

"We're trying to help our clients avoid the land mines and find the gold mines in homeland security," said John J. Pavlick Jr., a partner who has helped organize the practice, which represents Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and other large government contractors. "The major defense contractors want to move into the homeland security arena in a big way. I'm very bullish on this."

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