Military “mentors” quit rather than disclose conflicts of interest

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New disclosure rules, enacted to prevent possible conflicts of interest in the defense department, have prompted seven former top admirals and generals to quit an advisory program, rather than make their business ties public, according to a report in USA Today.

Until recently, retired admirals and generals working as consultants to the Pentagon have not been required to disclose their outside income. Even though the former officers make as much as $340 per hour giving advice on war plans and weapon systems, they have also been receiving payments from outside defense firms.

The military uses about 158 “senior mentors”, about 30 of which advise the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force; the others work in areas outside the four main branches. About 80 percent of those had financial ties to defense contractors, including 29 who were full time executives of those companies.

Besides receiving monies from defense contractors and consulting fees from the Pentagon at the same time, most of the officers were also collecting six-figure pensions.

Last year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates proposed new rules that would require the former officers to disclose their outside income and business relationships, and cap their military pay at $179,000. This month, President Obama signed the policy into law as part of the defense authorization act.

The seven mentors who quit the program this month said the disclosure requirements were too intrusive. The mentors claim that they police themselves, and would never abuse public trust.

Even so, the mentors were not subject to ethics rules that would apply if they were part-time federal employees. They did not have to disclose the identities of their outside clients or employers, or how much they were being paid.

“This setup invites abuse,” says Janine Wedel, a George Mason University public policy professor and author of a forthcoming book on government contracting. “Everyone in this story is fat and happy. Everyone, of course, except the public, which has virtually no way of knowing what’s going on, much less holding these guys to account.”

USA Today

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