Buried in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is an obscure, and quite significant, change to the post-employment restriction on U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) civilian and uniformed personnel. This new provision could have a substantial impact on defense contractors and others who recruit DoD personnel to work on policy and procurement matters before the DoD or the Executive Branch.

What Is Prohibited?

As of December 12, 2017, Section 1045 of the 2018 NDAA prohibits certain former DoD military officers and civilian officials from engaging in either “lobbying contacts” or behind-the-scenes “lobbying activities” with respect to the DoD. Both terms derive from the Lobbying Disclosure Act. While these officers and senior civilian employees have long been covered by a restriction on certain contacts with their former employer, this change also appears to bar “behind-the-scenes” work that had previously been specifically permitted, expands the period of coverage for some officials, and for those presidential appointees who signed the Trump ethics pledge, it converts those terms from a contractual agreement to a statutory bar. Of all of these changes, the most consequential will be the prohibition on these former government officials and officers engaging in preparation and planning activities, research, and other background work that is intended, at the time it is performed, for use in lobbying contacts.

In addition to the prohibition on behind-the-scenes activity, Section 1045 is broader than the existing criminal revolving door statute, 18 U.S.C. §207, because it covers activities with respect to the entire DoD, rather than the DoD component in which the former officer or official worked.

However, Section 1045 is not a complete ban on all lobbying activities. Covered former personnel may still lobby and participate in behind-the-scenes work related to lobbying Congress, as well as certain non-DoD Executive Branch officials.

To Whom Does the Ban Apply?

This new lobbying activities ban applies to former officers in grade O-7 or O-8, as well as their civilian equivalents for one year, and to former officers in grade O-9 and above, and their civilian equivalents for two years after leaving service. The statute does not provide clear guidance on who is a “civilian equivalent” under the ban, though we anticipate the DoD will shortly issue guidance to clarify this question.

Section 1045 also does not address whether the restrictions apply to covered military officers and civilians who terminated service before the ban took effect on December 12, 2017, but who remain in the one and two year periods where certain conduct is prohibited. There are strong arguments that this provision should not be applied retroactively, and we anticipate the DoD will also issue guidance on this point shortly.

Congress left no legislative history or enforcement mechanism, and used several undefined terms, so there will be a fair amount of interpretive advice to come. Covington is closely monitoring developments.

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Photo of Robert Lenhard Robert Lenhard

Robert Lenhard is a member of the firm’s Election & Political Law practice group and advises corporations, trade associations, not-for-profit organizations, and high-net-worth individuals on compliance with federal and state campaign finance, lobbying, and government ethics laws.

Mr. Lenhard routinely assists clients in…

Robert Lenhard is a member of the firm’s Election & Political Law practice group and advises corporations, trade associations, not-for-profit organizations, and high-net-worth individuals on compliance with federal and state campaign finance, lobbying, and government ethics laws.

Mr. Lenhard routinely assists clients in establishing and operating federal and state PACs, compliance programs associated with campaign finance and pay-to-play laws; advises advocacy groups and their donors; conducts compliance trainings and audits of federal and state lobbying and political programs; and counsels clients on compliance with congressional gift and travel rules.

Prior to joining the firm in 2008, Mr. Lenhard served as Chairman of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) in 2007 and Vice Chairman of the agency in 2006, during which time the agency handled over 10 major rulemakings, had among its most productive years in enforcement and audit, and adopted several reforms to the enforcement process.  Mr. Lenhard has also led the Presidential Transition Team that reviewed the FEC for the incoming Obama administration in 2008-2009.

Photo of Zachary G. Parks Zachary G. Parks

Zachary Park advises a wide range of corporate and political clients on federal and state campaign finance, lobbying disclosure, pay to play, and government ethics laws. Mr. Parks regularly advises corporations and corporate executives on instituting political law compliance programs and conducts compliance…

Zachary Park advises a wide range of corporate and political clients on federal and state campaign finance, lobbying disclosure, pay to play, and government ethics laws. Mr. Parks regularly advises corporations and corporate executives on instituting political law compliance programs and conducts compliance training for senior corporate executives and lobbyists. He also has extensive experience conducting corporate internal investigations concerning campaign finance and lobbying law compliance and has defended clients in investigations by the Federal Election Commission, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee.

Photo of Angelle Smith Baugh Angelle Smith Baugh

Angelle Smith Baugh is a special counsel in the firm’s White Collar Litigation and Election & Political Law practice groups.  Ms. Baugh’s practice includes defense against government investigations in civil and criminal matters before the Department of Justice, Federal Election Commission, and Congressional…

Angelle Smith Baugh is a special counsel in the firm’s White Collar Litigation and Election & Political Law practice groups.  Ms. Baugh’s practice includes defense against government investigations in civil and criminal matters before the Department of Justice, Federal Election Commission, and Congressional Ethics Committees.  She also provides ongoing political law advice, including federal and state ethics, election, and lobbying laws, to companies, trade associations, PACs, and high net-worth individuals.