Jewish World Review Nov 16, 2011 / 19 Mar-Cheshvan 5772
Pentagon's senior mentor service takes hit
By Dan K. Thomasson
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | The old truism about rank having its privileges probably still applies in many endeavors -- but not so much these days among the top-echelon retirees in the military who just aren't receiving the same fiscally deferential treatment from their old pals as they once did.
At least that's what the retired generals and admirals who used to make up the Pentagon's "senior mentor" service seem to feel about restrictions on the amount of money they can make, disclosure of their personal income, and other troublesome intrusions. The Defense Department's inspector general has released a report showing that where there were 355 generals and flag officers earning tidy sums for their advice a year ago, there are now only four.
This sort of "double dipping," it seems, has lost its cachet because one can now only make $86.10 an hour or a paltry maximum of $179,700 a year to counsel the current crop of Army, Navy or Marine Corps brass. A couple of years ago, according to a study done by USA Today, these dudes were dragging down $330 an hour. But that was before congressional and civilian watchdogs took exception and former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates put a cap on the spending and made the mentors sign up as government employees instead of contractors who aren't subject to federal ethics laws.
Within a short time, most of the "retirees" had run for the nearest bunker or joined a military contractor from whom many had been receiving consulting pay anyway in addition to their government mentoring fees. In fact, before Gates' action, some mentors reportedly were paid to run war games that involved weapons systems made by the companies for whom they consulted. Do you remember President Dwight Eisenhower's warning about the military-industrial complex?
Obviously, all that new transparency, including having to file public financial reports, has not been worth the potential embarrassment it caused them. The Pentagon resisted pressure to disclose those in the program and preferred to keep the financial statements private but relented largely because media exposure brought congressional objections.
In his review, the inspector general found that in 2010 the Navy and Marines and three additional commands had 194 mentors. But by early 2011, only 11 had become government employees. Since then, seven of those have resigned, according to the IG report and USA Today. The Navy has no mentors today.
The military retirement pay and benefits for general officers is not unsubstantial, ranging from an annual $100,000 to $200,000, and most retire from active duty young enough to have lucrative careers after service. They often retire from high-paying civilian jobs with second pensions. Clearly, their expertise and contacts make them highly valuable and much in demand by defense contractors. Many earn enough to make their last military paycheck look paltry.
The retirees are also sought after as consultants by a variety of think tanks and, of course, the media. Top-ranking military officers frequently have been appointed to major civilian government posts. Gen. David Petraeus now runs the CIA, an assignment awarded other retired military officers in the past.
With national unemployment stubbornly running at the 9 percent level, $86 an hour has to look good to the average wage earner. Many would salivate. In fact, there are tens of thousands in the jobless category who possess qualifications in their chosen fields equal to that of the generals and admirals in theirs. Everyone has a couple of highly educated friends or acquaintances or relatives who are having trouble putting food on the table, often depending on a spouse's meager income while they hunt for a job.
Certainly the mentoring program is useful as long as it follows the guidelines established for transparency and pay. But the real problem lies in its potential for ethical abuse. Conflicts of interest and cronyism are clearly built into the system. Representing your new employer who does business with your old one and getting paid by both should raise everyone's hackles. It sounds like a scheme worked out by Tony Soprano.
The inspector general's report, with its startling statistics, makes it pretty clear that when the flares went up, the cry reverberating around the Pentagon was "incoming!" -- and the response was predictable.
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