Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The National Guard Embarrassed by Scandal and Abuse

I have a somewhat upsetting story to report today. It seems that the California National Guard is under multiple investigations alleging that massive amounts of state and federal funds have been misappropriated or fraudulently distributed.

For my friends outside the United States who may not be familiar with our National Guard, let me take a quick moment to tell you just who they are. Each state and territory in the United States is authorized to form it’s own National Guard units. These units train and behave almost identically to Army and Air Force Reserve units. In fact they are trained and equipped by the Army and Air Force and deploy overseas and serve with those units in time of war. Many National Guards units are serving active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan right now. The major difference between them and reserve units is that when they are not actively deployed with the Army or Air Force they are exclusively under each states individual control with an individual command structure which answers directly to the state or territory Governor. Their primary purpose is to assist the state in times of emergency such as disaster relief or civil unrest (rioting).

Last October, the Sacramento Bee began a series of stories by investigative journalist Charles Piller. He reported that several whistleblowers within or affiliated with the CalGuard (California National Guard) alleged that recruiting and retention incentive programs (primarily in the form of cash bonuses and student loan repayments) were being improperly awarded in great amounts. The allegations suggested that as much as $100 million in federal funds had been wasted, or perhaps fraudulently distributed, over the preceding decade. Before long, more whistleblowers were coming out of the woodwork with new, different allegations, leading to more news stories. In November 2010, the Senate and Assembly Veterans' Affairs committees launched a series of oversight hearings.

Word has now come out that multiple federal agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, and U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations, may be conducting a joint investigation.

The two initial whistleblowers were full-time uniformed employees. These two sergeants inherited responsibility for Army Guard incentive programs in late 2009, following the retirement of a predecessor now implicated in the alleged wrongdoing.

After weeks of reviewing their predecessor's questionable records, the whistleblowers contacted an external federal military auditor, whose job entails overseeing federal funds spent by state Guard organizations.

The auditor soon uncovered more problems, including what appeared to be improper activity by commissioned officers. When CalGuard leaders failed to respond to the whistleblowers' allegations, the auditor contacted several federal agencies. In the summer of 2010, those agencies launched their criminal probes.

Some reports estimate that hundreds of commissioned officers and thousands of enlisted CalGuard troops wrongly received bonuses and student loan payoffs. It is likely that most enlisted Guard members trusted program managers and did not realize that they were ineligible to receive the payments; nevertheless, many may yet be required to pay back all or part of the overpayments.

The probability is much higher that at least some of the commissioned officers who received improper payments were aware of the impropriety. For example, one officer, a major ineligible for any such bonus, received twenty-one $3,000 checks in a single calendar day. Another officer ineligible to receive the bonus allegedly had $10,000 wired to a credit card account.

In December 2010, Bee reporter Piller reported that a number of pilots with the Air Guard's 144 th Fighter Wing (located at the Fresno Air National Guard Base) had engaged in a form of double-dipping on military pay.

After earning a legal day's pay flying their F-16 jet fighters, these pilots allegedly pulled a second shift - again at full pay - in or near an "alert" ready room on "on-call" status. The alert status is justified by strategic national security requirement that some scramble-ready assets must be available on short notice to intercept air intrusions by hostile nations or 9/11 style terrorist attacks.

According to news reports, a federal audit determined that the practice goes back to 2008, perhaps farther - and violates federal law and military regulations against earning more than one payday on a single calendar day. Reportedly, the audit also found that some pilots earned full pay for standby shifts spent at home, sleeping in their own beds, or while off on vacation so long as they could physically report to the base within 12 hours.

Guardsmen cynically refer to the program as "Dozing for Dollars."

In one case, Air Guard pilots allegedly drew pay for being on alert status in Fresno, while they were actually in Tokyo, Japan flying for their civilian employer. Several Air National Guard pilots reportedly received in excess of $400,000.

I should probably point out that these are allegations and that no one has yet been charged with a crime. That said, my guess is that there will be a whole lot of heads rolling, resignations and criminal charges in the coming days.

This will reflect very badly on the National Guard and the military in general and will put a stain on the important contributions and honorable service of the many who have served in these units over the years. This kind of abuse of the taxpayers dollars is inexcusable -especially in light of the current fiscal conditions. These crimes (and if the allegations are true, they are definitely crimes) drain the public coffers and force our politicians to raise our taxes to cover these expenses.

I hope that any of the allegations are proved the responsible people are prosecuted and forced to make restitution. It would be disappointing and unacceptable to see some politicians trying to sweep this mess under the table with a few resignations and hand slapping. I have always held that anyone in the public trust, accepting tax dollars for their services, should be held to a higher standard with mandatory jail sentences a part of their punishment. That includes Guardsmen to whom we look for protection and rescue in times of need. Their honor (and our trust in them) can only be restored by weeding out and severely punishing the abusers.

Live Long and Prosper…..


RockabillyJunction said...

why does your blog banner say: escape while there is still time? Also, do you believe our military personnel are being gangstalked or mobbed?

Gary said...

"Escape while there is still time" is just my sense of humor, When I was young and wild I shared a 3 bedroom apartment in San Fransisco with 3 other bachelors and we had a wooden sign saying that over our front door,

I am not sure what you mean by gangstalked, but I beleieve that our uniformed personnel are generally treated very well -certainly much better then when I served in the late sixties and seventies. All volunteer services has raised the level of professionalism and dedication -they deserve our support and respect.