Shortly after leaving his job as U.S. energy secretary in early 2005, Spencer Abraham took a $60,000-a-year post as a director of Occidental Petroleum, which soon became the first firm in 20 years to ship oil to the United States from Libya.

Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge accepted director's fees and consulting work from several firms seeking contracts with his old agency.

Tommy Thompson, the former Health and Human Services secretary, has consulted, lobbied or worked as an employee for 42 companies since leaving office in January 2005.

All told, 17 of 24 former Bush Cabinet members have taken positions with at least 119 companies, including 65 firms that lobby the government and 40 that lobby the agencies they headed, a liberal-leaning watchdog group reported Monday.

Melanie Sloan, the executive director of the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), said the group's six-month investigation "has shown that most of these former Bush administration ... made a mint on the backs of American taxpayers."

"It may be legal, but it is certainly not honorable," she said.

The report also said a number of the former officers had spurned direct lobbying themselves and complied with one-year prohibitions on lobbying their former agencies by serving as corporate advisers.

The White House and aides offered no comment on the report, the most detailed to date about senior Bush officials.

It's not a new phenomenon. Former senior executive branch officials from past administrations and members of Congress from both parties have traded on their connections to help private businesses in droves. President-elect Barack Obama has vowed to take a tough stand on ethics even as he deals with the challenge of tapping top talent for short-term public service.