When Defense Contractors Face Criticism


Washington is serious business and Congressional statements shouldn’t be taken lightly. Defense contractors should listen carefully when Congress and the U.S. government criticize their support.

Over the last few years, Lawmakers and Regulators have particularly targeted contractors operating in Iraq, Afghanistan and other conflict zones around the world for mismanagement of agreements with the US Government. With over billions in funds already spent on Defense Contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, Defense Contractors will continue to be in the crosshairs of Washington.

Democrats and Republicans alike continue to take dead aim at those responsible for billions of dollars in contracts, and mismanagement is being dealt with harshly. Congress continues to schedule investigations and oversight into government contracting and criticism is sure to continue in an election year as contractors providing support in Afghanistan are drawing down. Contractors must defend themselves not only during Congressional testimony, but they must defend themselves from damaging attacks effecting court of public opinion because such negative perceptions will drive decision-making and influence their bottom-lines.

The message seems clear: Defense contractors large and small must understand that public scrutiny isn’t a matter of if; it’s a matter of when. Whether multi-billion dollar corporations with long-standing government relationships or small business first-timers, contractors must prepare themselves for the inherently media-centric nature of Congressional and regulatory investigations, the scrutiny of election year politics and the focused skepticism of public opinion.

Fines, the loss of brand credibility and trust in the marketplace, and even jail time are at stake. In addition, the very nature of defense contracting, which relies heavily on public resources, could be drastically altered – to the detriment of new business prospects and existing contracts across the entire industry.

In the midst of such significant consequences as criminal penalty, permanent abolishment of contract bidding rights and loss of revenue, defense contractors working for the U.S. Government must take steps now to ensure that they are positioned favorably if/when the spotlight lands on them. Anyone will flatly deny wrongdoing. But the winners in these battles will have to employ a prescient, proactive, and a prolonged communications strategy that will make deposits in the trust bank before impending withdrawals leave it in the red. Among the points contractors must remember when making their cases:

Tap into the values at the core of the mission. Freedom, liberty, democracy, and patriotism; these are the values that drive the defense contractors’ mission.

Articulate specialization and expertise. In many cases, the contractors supporting the military are the only companies in the World that can do what they do.

Be fully transparent and cooperative. Contractors should consider making financial information public before it’s requested by regulators, reporters, or Congress

Put the focus back on policy. Defense contractors work within the legal and regulatory framework set forth by Congress and the U.S government itself.

Get media trained. Defense contractors should pick their spokespeople wisely and ensure that they are ready to face every audience – from congressional committees to the media pit bulls and citizen journalists leveraging social media that won’t be afraid to pursue ambush interviews outside a CEO’s home or in the lobby of the corporate office.

Put all damaging bombshells on the table upfront. Perhaps most important of all, defense contractors must be willing to perform an honest internal examination of their own potential liabilities.