by Max Brantley
For two years, Mr. Hutchinson, a onetime United States congressman and a current candidate for Arkansas governor, served as under secretary for border and transportation security, supervising the 110,000 employees charged with guarding the nation's borders, ports and airports. His transition from public service to the for-profit world could serve as a primer for others.
Mr. Hutchinson began his negotiations to enter private industry months before he resigned. On March 2, 2005, the day after he officially left the department, he began work at Venable LLP, a Washington law and lobbying firm that represents major domestic security contractors like Lockheed Martin.
Federal law prohibits executive branch officials from negotiating for a future job with companies they oversee. Mr. Hutchinson complied with this provision by signing a waiver in December 2004, vowing to be "disqualified from participating personally in any particular matter that would have a direct and predictable effect on Venable."
Benjamin R. Civiletti, the chairman of Venable, made clear why Mr. Hutchinson was attractive to the firm.
"Asa was not only present at the creation of this vast new security infrastructure," Mr. Civiletti said when announcing Mr. Hutchinson's appointment as director of the firm's domestic security practice. "He was one of the chief architects and implementers."
Mr. Hutchinson was soon representing clients including Intelligenxia, a data-mining software company seeking domestic security business; ImmuneRegen BioSciences, a pharmaceutical company that sells anti-radiation drugs; and Global Computer Enterprises, which wants to expand its computer software and systems sales to the department.
Working with Mr. Hutchinson at Venable was Alison R. Williams, his special assistant at the Homeland Security Department, who was not senior enough at the agency to be subject to the one-year lobbying ban. Ms. Williams set up and attended a meeting between Global and Andrew B. Maner, then the department's chief financial officer, which Mr. Hutchinson did not attend. Mr. Maner was overseeing the introduction of a financial management system, and Global wanted a bigger piece of the job.
"We wanted to educate Homeland Security officials," said David Lucas, director of government relations at Global. "We wanted our view heard."
Mr. Hutchinson opened a second for-profit venture in Arkansas, his home state, starting a firm he called Hutchinson Security Strategies. Again, he enlisted a former department aide, Betty Anderson Guhman, who, like Ms. Williams, was not subject to the one-year lobbying ban.
Ms. Guhman says she interacts regularly with Homeland Security Department officials on visits to Washington, as she did recently, meeting with W. Ralph Basham after his nomination as commissioner of customs and border protection.
Mr. Hutchinson said the presence of his business partners at these meetings was not meant to circumvent the lobbying ban. "When I am not at a meeting," he said, "I am not at the meeting."
Nine months after leaving the department, Mr. Hutchinson moderated a private briefing and reception in Washington for senior domestic security officials and industry representatives given by Saflink, a Bellevue, Wash., manufacturer of fingerprint and other identification technology. The event focused on two transportation security programs that Saflink intended to bid on and that Mr. Hutchinson, who had been named to Saflink's board, helped create at the department.
Thanks to the participation by Mr. Hutchinson and others, the briefing achieved its goal of "solidifying Saflink's position as a leader in this area in the minds of key government decision makers," Glenn Argenbright, Saflink's chief executive, said in describing the event to industry analysts.
Mr. Hutchinson said he was convinced that the session did not violate the lobbying ban. "A panel discussion forum is not lobbying by any standard whatsoever," he said.
The biggest potential for profit among Mr. Hutchinson's ventures appears to come from his role as an investor in Fortress America Acquisition, a domestic security investment firm for which he also acts as an adviser. The company raised $42 million last year by selling stock through an initial public offering. Mr. Hutchinson, before the stock was sold publicly, bought 200,000 shares for $25,000. At Friday's trading price the stock was worth more than $1.2 million. (He cannot sell those shares for at least two years.)
Given the demands of running for office, Mr. Hutchinson chose not to renew a one-year contract with Venable in March. Calculating how much he earned through all these endeavors over the last year is difficult. His financial disclosure form filed in Arkansas in May as part of the governor's race says only that in 2005 he made more than $12,500 — the maximum amount available to check off on the state disclosure form — from at least four different domestic-security-related ventures, not including the department itself.
Mr. Hutchinson acknowledges that in one year he earned more than he ever did in one year as under secretary at the Homeland Security Department, but he declined to give an estimate of his earnings.