(Bloomberg) -- The Pentagon’s top weapons tester recused himself from from decisions or program evaluations involving No. 1 defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp., in a case that may only add to scrutiny of the revolving door between the military and its suppliers.

Douglas Schmidt was sworn in April 8 as director of Operational Test and Evaluation, the office that provides often tough appraisals of weapons including Lockheed’s F-35, the Defense Department’s costliest system. Those evaluations of whether multibillion-dollar programs will be effective in combat — and how costly they will be to maintain — often affect the amount and timing of funding.

Schmidt wasn’t on the payroll of a major defense contractor, an entry on a resume that usually typifies the revolving door. But he was retained in 2022 as an expert witness by a law firm representing Lockheed’s Sikorsky Aircraft unit. Previous work for top contractors have led to recusals for past and current Defense Department officials, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall.

Schmidt disclosed his recusal on the last page of a written statement he gave when he testified this month before a House Armed Services subcommittee reviewing the Pentagon’s fixed-wing fighters, including the F-35. 

“I would like to bring to your attention that I must recuse myself from answering or providing information on Lockheed Martin products and systems,” he said. He also offered to take questions for his office’s staff to answer.

At issue, Schmidt said in a brief interview, was his work as an expert witness for a law firm representing Lockheed’s Sikorsky Aircraft unit in a late 2022 protest to the Government Accountability Office. Sikorsky was contesting the Army’s award to Bell Textron Inc. of its potential $7 billion Black Hawk replacement program. The GAO eventually decided in Bell’s favor.

Schmidt said he told Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, that he would recuse himself from Lockheed issues.  In the Sikorsky case, Schmidt said he was retained to “take a look at their proposal and evaluate” its proposed software approach. “I’m not even sure if it was ever filed in the case,” he said of his report into the matter.

The Pentagon said in a statement that “we do not anticipate any impact” to the testing office’s “mission or its activities.”

Before his Pentagon appointment, Schmidt was associate chair of Computer Science and a Senior Researcher at the Institute for Software Integrated Systems at Vanderbilt University.

Board Membership

He joins a roster of recused Defense Department officials that’s currently led by Austin, who has pledged not to participate in decisions involving RTX Corp. because he sat on the board of what was then Raytheon Technologies Corp. Kendall, the Air Force secretary, abstains from reviews and decisions involving Northrop Grumman Corp. programs like the B-21 bomber because he had a consulting relationship with the contractor before becoming secretary. 

In the Trump administration, Defense Secretary James Mattis was disqualified for two years from participating in General Dynamics Corp. affairs because of former board membership and stock ownership. His successor, Acting Secretary Patrick Shanahan, was a former Boeing Co. senior vice president who also recused himself from matters linked to the planemaker unless he had prior authorization.

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