When a little-known Silicon Valley software startup began vying for national security contracts, it went up against an entrenched bureaucracy and opposition from major contractors skilled in the Washington game.
But quickly, Palantir began pulling pages from the defense industry’s own playbook — bulking up on lobbyists, challenging the Pentagon’s contracting rules and getting members of Congress to sprinkle favorable language into defense legislation. Seven years later, the secretive firm has landed $1.2 billion worth of federal business, and critics say the legislative favors it has secured will give it a leg up on billions more.
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Representatives of the firm — founded by venture capitalist and prominent Donald Trump supporter Peter Thiel — insist it remains an outsider in a Washington culture deeply wedded to the status quo.
But a review of public documents and interviews with key players shows the company is no stranger to Beltway politics and influence. Its lobbying expenditures more than tripled to more than $1 million in a few short years, as it enlisted lawmakers such as Sens. John McCain and Tom Cotton to help it compete against established players like Raytheon and Northrop Grumman. Now, about 40 percent of Palantir’s business comes from government clients, and it appears to be winning a fight with the Army over a $3 billion program to build a new battlefield intelligence network.
“The other companies were asleep at the switch,” said one industry consultant who works for one of Palantir’s competitors, and who spoke on the condition he not be identified.
“It’s a company that couldn’t win a contract and now doesn’t want another company to win,” added a congressional aide who has seen the operation up close but was not permitted to speak publicly. …