WestExec Advisors is a consulting firm based in Washington, D.C. that specializes in national security and foreign policy. The firm employs many former military and government officials, and promotes their “recent experience at the highest levels of the U.S. government” as well as their “networks” in the defense, intelligence, and other communities as benefits to potential clients.
In November 2020, President-elect Joe Biden announced that he was considering three WestExec employees for cabinet positions in his administration. Multiple news sources have reported on the firm’s lack of transparency and potential conflicts of interest. Politico called WestExec “a government-in-waiting for the next administration.” The New York Times called the firm an example of “how former officials leverage their expertise, connections and access on behalf of corporations and other interests.” Both the right-of-center Daily Caller and left-wing Common Dreams raised concerns that WestExec employees have used the firm to cash in on their government service.
“WestExec” refers to West Executive Avenue, the closed road in Washington, DC that runs between the White House and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which is used by the President, Vice President, and top executive branch officials.
WestExec Advisors was founded in 2017 by two former Obama administration officials: former Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken and former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy. The firm was created to provide risk analysis, strategy development, and other related services to United States-based and foreign clients.
During the Biden-Harris Transition process, Blinken was announced as the nominee-designate for Secretary of State, and Flournoy was considered but ultimately not selected as nominee-designate for Secretary of Defense.
WestExec Advisors lists “defense, foreign policy, intelligence, economics, cybersecurity, data privacy, and strategic communications” as areas of expertise, and promises their clients “higher confidence in their business decisions.”
Because it is not a lobbying firm, it is not required to disclose its specific services and the clients that retain them. However, the left-leaning Project on Government Oversight (POGO) calls the firm’s work “lobbying by remote control” that “simply circumvents the legalities,” citing a WestExec source who was quoted as saying “’We’ll tell you who to talk to’ and what to tell them.”
As of late 2020, Tony Blinken and Michele Flournoy both work as managing partners at WestExec Advisors. Before serving as Deputy Secretary of State in the Obama administration, Blinken was National Security Advisor to then-Vice President Joe Biden. Flournoy previously served as Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, and co-founded the Center for a New American Security.
Both Blinken and Flournoy also work for Pine Island Capital Partners, a Washington, D.C.-based investment fund. Like WestExec, the fund promotes its “deeply-connected” partners, all of whom are former high-level government and military officials.
Former White House National Security Council Directors Sergio Aguirre and Nitin Chadda also helped found WestExec, and serve as managing partners. The firm’s principals and senior advisors include retired general officers and former national security and foreign policy officials.
U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) voiced concerns over President-elect Biden’s consideration of Flournoy and Blinken for cabinet appointments. Cornyn acknowledged that “ethics rules allow incoming federal officials to withhold the identities of clients if the arrangements are subject to confidentiality agreements,” but said that “the Senate is not obligated to confirm anyone who hides this information.”
In November 2020, WestExec Advisors removed some language from its website that promoted China-related services. Previously, the firm offered to “screen foreign research partners and donors, reduce risk associated with operations in China,” and “navigate these issues with the Defense Department.” Mandy Smithberger of the left-leaning Project on Government Oversight told Politico that firms like WestExec become “strategic consultants” instead of registered lobbyists in order to avoid disclosing their clients and services, making it “impossible to assess the influence they have on federal expenditures.”