General Stanley McChrystal as commander of American troops in Afghanistan in 2009. Photo via US Embassy in Kabul
SpaceX, the rocket and spacecraft company founded by South African–born magnate Elon Musk, has been locked in a bitter dispute with United Launch Alliance (ULA)—a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing—for US government contracts worth billions of dollars.
Now the lobbying firm with close ties to a notorious retired general is joining the fray.
Musk is suing the Feds, claiming ULA's recent no-bid contract with the US Air Force reeks of corruption, and that his company can save money for taxpayers. In response, ULA has stepped up its game, retaining a lobbying shop tied to retired General Stanley McChrystal, the former top American military commander in Afghanistan, VICE has learned.
This week, ULA registered Shockey Scofield Solutions as its lobbying representative, a company that filed registration documents showing the exact same Alexandria, Virginia, address as McChrystal's consulting firm, the McChrystal Group. Shockey Scofield also has a history of partnering with the McChrystal team to contact officials at the Defense Department.
The McChrystal Group itself is not a registered lobbying firm, exactly, but acts as close partner to Shockey. Earlier this year, McChrystal's firm was caught receiving payments from a Shokey Scofield Solutions client while reaching out to Pentagon officials regarding a Global Positioning System (GPS) dispute for the same client. “Shockey Scofield Solutions has active partnerships with the following firms,” reads a selection from the Shockey website before specifically listing the McChrystal Group.
Jeff Scofield, a founding partner at Shokey Scofield Solutions, wrote VICE in an email that McChrystal's firm "will not be involved in this client or any of our clients," claiming that his company only rents space to the former general's consulting operation. Asked why his lobbying shop lists McChrystal as a "strategic partner," Scofield did not respond. Previously, McChrystal Group and Scofield's lobbying firm have jointly worked peddling influence on behalf of the controversial telecom company LightSquared.
Asked about ULA's relationship with McChrystal, Mark Bitterman, the vice president of Government Affairs with ULA, did not deny working with the former general. He responded with the following rather cryptic statement: “With a variety of misinformation being discussed about the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program, it is important to ensure lawmakers and the public have accurate information."
The issue at hand between SpaceX—whose rockets are currently used to ship cargo to the International Space Station—and ULA is the Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program, which US Senator John McCain describes as "a vital $70 billion national security space-launch program that, without competition, has been plagued by exponential cost growth and schedule delays." Musk claims his company could provide the same service as the Lockheed Martin-Boeing venture at a fraction of the cost. Last month, he made headlines when he pointed out that Roger S. Correll, a former Air Force official in charge of the EELV program, went to work for Aerojet Rocketdyne—a company that builds rocket engines for ULA—right after awarding ULA with its lucrative EELV contract.
"V likely AF official Correll was told by ULA/Rocketdyne that a rich VP job was his if he gave them a sole source contract," Musk tweeted, referencing a report by the National Legal and Policy Center, an ethics watchdog.
Revolving door corruption is one of most common forms of influence peddling in Washington, DC. It's currently illegal to hand a politician a million-dollar check in exchange for tweaking legislation, but there is little preventing any public official—whether a US senator, a member of the military elite, or an administration chief of staff—from handing out a favor while in office and then "retiring" to take a highly paid job at a company that benefited.
The fact that McChrystal has cashed out since leaving the military is well known. Not long after he was forced to resign following Michael Hastings's spectacular Rolling Stone story that featured the general and his staff openly talking shit about Obama administration officials, McChrystal joined the board of Navistar, a military contractor that won big contracts for work in Afghanistan. The McChrystal Group website once advertised “professional expertise in navigating the policy of the federal government” and “legislative strategies to help clients solve complex problems." After several news outlets noted that this sounded an awful lot like lobbying, the language was deleted from the site.
As for ULA, the Lockheed Martin-Boeing joint venture, Business Insider reports that the company is ramping up its attacks on SpaceX to hamper the rival from challenging its contract for Air Force rocket launches. ULA has invested millions in lobbying and recently handed out an infographic mocking the technical abilities of SpaceX. But as the filing this week shows, they're also quietly bringing out the big guns by cozying up with a lobbying firm that has historically had General McChrystal at its disposal.