Scandal-Plagued Pentagon Isn’t Reviewing Ethics Standards

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

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Pentagon officials have no way to know if their approach to ethics is effective, a congressional watchdog claims.

Multiple “high-profile” investigations in 2012 and 2013 unearthed a Navy bribery scandal, sexual assault accusations against Army generals, and Air Force generals drinking on duty, leading Congress and then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to call in the Government Accountability Office, said GAO director Brenda Farrell, one of the congressional watchdog agencies top defense and military program experts.

But a year after Hagel created an office for “integrating and coordinating ethics” practices and oversight under a senior adviser for military professionalism, Pentagon officials have no way of analyzing their current ethical practices or needs, GAO found.

DOD already had a Standards of Conduct Office before Hagel added another layer of oversight to the thousands of existing laws, regulations and policies intended to prevent procurement abuse and other white collar crimes.

“That’s one of the missing elements — metrics, metrics to determine if this office that I mentioned that oversees the ethics program is on track to make a determination of the best way forward,” Farrell said. “Metrics to determine if what the department already has in place is working, or if they need to make course corrections. Those are missing.”

DOD employees in a 2012 survey said the Pentagon routinely rewards unethical behavior, and they feared retaliation for reporting a superior’s misconduct.

One in 20 DOD employees received ethics training last year, despite recommendations from the new oversight office that all employees undergo annual training.

Hagel’s parting words to Pentagon officials when he stepped down last year urged them to step up their integrity.

“DOD should be commended for the number of efforts it’s taken, some on its own initiative,” Farrell said. “But they have many activities and haven’t determined really what is working and what’s not working. So I’ll go back to what I said earlier — metrics is what’s needed in order to determine the best way forward.”

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