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January 31, 2014

The military has cataloged its ethical failures, and they're kind of awesome

WASHINGTON — Did you hear the one about the first lieutenant who had to pay $120,000 in fines for accepting bribes from contractors he'd awarded with lucrative Defense Department deals? Or the Navy civilian working who asked a fence contractor for a $5,000 payment so the contractor could be "recommended" for a $153,000 contract? What about the four senior officials, including two Air Force generals, a Marine general and a Navy admiral, who extended their stay in Tokyo to play golf at an illegal cost of $3,000 to the government?

The thing is, those aren't jokes. They're true stories. And they point to a growing problem within the military: a pattern of misconduct, misbehavior and outright thievery by senior generals, top Pentagon civilian officials and of course, the rank-and-file.

The laundry list of wrongdoing, in the Defense Department and in various other government agencies, is contained in a surprisingly readable but unknown document compiled by the equally unknown Defense Department's General Counsel's Standards of Conduct Office.

The name of the July 2013 report says it all: "The Encyclopedia of Ethical Failure," a 164-page who's who of bureaucratic nee'r do wells that details all of those government personnel who have tried to fleece the government, line their pockets with public money, use government property for their own use or demand loans from subordinates.

There is a section on credit card abuse, another on political endorsements. There's one on financial aid disclosures, and others on fraud, gambling and gift violations. The Defense Department likes to say that most of its personnel are law-abiding, upstanding citizens, and that's true. But the numerous cases listed in the document beg the question: who does this kind of thing?

"Our goal is to provide DoD personnel with real examples of federal employees who have intentionally or unwittingly violated the standards of conduct," the introduction reads. "Some cases are humorous, some sad, and all are real."

Whoever assembled the list of cases in the Encyclopedia -- taken mostly from Department of Defense Office of the Inspector General cases -- seemed to have had fun doing it. Forget the stuffy, bureaucratic-ese of most government publications -- this one channels Al Gore with his famous directive to write government documents in English. The Encyclopedia is all written in a breezy, informal style meant to attract attention to all the wrongdoing even as it repeatedly details all the U.S. code violations and governmental regulations in question.

Here's the headline to the item about the golf outing in Tokyo: "A Swing and a Miss for Senior Officers Using Government Funds on Golf Outing." One about a sergeant who put government-owned parts on his truck is titled "Staff Sergeant Tricks Out His Ride on the Government's Dime." Here's another: "Misuse of Culinary Specialists Results in Attention of Chief of Naval Operations."

The nearly two year-old report nonetheless comes at an awkward moment for the military. As the Navy investigation into the "Fat Leonard" bribery scandal unfolds and expands, the report highlights a number of lesser-known incidents of bribery that the Defense Department believes all of its personnel should be aware of. Indeed, many of the cases have to do with misconduct involving millions of dollars of government money.

For example, a retired Army major, Christopher Murray, received $225,000 in bribes during his assignment to Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, in 2005 and 2006 while he served as a contracting specialist there. In another case at the same base, Army Maj. James Momon, Jr. accepted cash bribes from five Defense contracting firms that supplied bottled water and other goods to U.S. bases in Kuwait.

"Momon, a contracting officer at the camp, awarded contracts and Blanket Purchase Agreement calls to those contractors, receiving $5.8 million as payment for his actions," the document reads.

Then there was 1st Lt. Robert Moore, one of the "10 percenters," as some in the military like to call bad apples, who was deployed to Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan and eventually agreed to pay $120,000 in fines for accepting bribes from contractors in exchange for Defense contracts.

That wasn't all. According to the report, "Moore pled guilty to conspiracy, admitting to falsifying the number of bunkers and barriers delivered at Bagram, which resulted in Defense paying for bunkers and barriers that were never received." He also admitted to falsifying damage reports for leased vehicles, causing Defense to pay for repairs not performed.

 Moore wasn't alone. Army Major Christopher West and Air Force Mstr. Sgt. Patrick Boyd, also pled guilty to bribery and conspiracy for related conduct. And the two paid for their mistakes: West had to give a whopping $500,000 back to the military while Boyd turned over $130,000 more.

There were also numerous cases of senior officers who bent the rules and used their position to obtain better airline tickets, visits to clubs or extra services to which they aren't entitled.

The encyclopedia details the case of one senior officer who, with his wife, flew in "premium class" on official business trips, justifying it in part by suggesting that flying anything less would have looked odd to their hosts in a foreign country. The case does not identify the officer, although it sounds very similar to the types of concerns over which Gen. Kip Ward, the former Africa Command commander, was reprimanded and later effectively pushed out of the military.

 In another case with the same officer, "the officer justified business-class seats by indicating he was required to perform official business immediately after his arrival at his travel destination, when in fact he spent almost his first full day attending a VIP welcome, making U.S. embassy calls, enjoying lunch and dinner, and touring a local vineyard."

There's more. "Although never issuing any direct orders, the officer requested his subordinates to perform many personal services such as caring for his dog, shopping for athletic gear, and repairing his bicycle." And there's this: the senior officer -- who presumably makes in excess of $150,000 a year -- asked subordinates to loan him "thousands of dollars in payments out of their personal funds." While he repaid them later, officers can't essentially ask subordinates for personal loans - a fairly obvious violation of ethics guidelines for officers.

The four senior officers who abused their travel orders apparently were at a golf outing in Tokyo when they used government transportation and received a per diem to play in a golf tournament.

 "There were no business events that day, and the all-day golf event was attended by less than half of the conference participants ... golf foursomes do not provide the opportunity to dialogue with a large or diverse group of people and thus do not greatly foster communication between conference participants," the report said. The four officers were told they had to reimburse the government both for the lodging and the per-diem costs incurred during "the golf outing."

Some of the cases make for lighter reading.

Take the case of the Army sergeant assigned to a National Guard maintenance shop that worked on civilian vehicles there but removed government-owned car parts to install on his personal vehicle. He then used a government credit card to buy a new fuel tank and install it on his personal truck.

 "The staff sergeant not only took a government vehicle for his personal use, but he even took a shed from the shop and moved it to his home," the citation reads. "He was also suspected of using his government credit card to pay for gas for his personal vehicles. The staff sergeant was charged with larceny and wrongful appropriation under the Code of Military Justice and the government was able to recover $8,800 in property."

The bottom line lesson: don't try any of this at home. "Please pay particular attention to the multiple jail and probation sentences, fines, employment terminations and other sanctions that were taken as a result of these ethical failures," the document reads.

 

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