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Pentagon IG: Former Official Abused Travel Policies

Dec. 4, 2009 - 06:00AM   |  
By JOHN T. BENNETT   |   Comments
Former deputy undersecretary of Defense for policy Christopher Ryan Henry said in a Dec. 4 e-mail to Federal Times that he "STRONGLY disagreed" with processes used by the inspector general during the investigation.
Former deputy undersecretary of Defense for policy Christopher Ryan Henry said in a Dec. 4 e-mail to Federal Times that he "STRONGLY disagreed" with processes used by the inspector general during the investigation. (FILE PHOTO)

Former deputy Pentagon policy chief Christopher Ryan Henry routinely violated Defense Department travel policies to reap personal gain including ski resort getaways and limousine rentals and eventually repaid the government nearly $17,500, according to the Pentagon's inspector general.

The department's top investigator found Henry arranged travel under official premises for personal reasons, refused to use government-contracted travel vendors, and "misused his government position to gain personal benefit," a September 2008 IG report states.

The former principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy also "failed to use a government travel card for expenses arising from official government travel," which violates federal regulations, the IG found.

Federal Times last week received a redacted copy of the final investigation report through a Freedom of Information Act request filed Nov. 3, 2008. The investigators found that on seven occasions between November 2005 and August 2007, Henry "extended official travel for primarily personal reasons."

The IG's office broke down specific airfare, hotel, rental car, fuel, limousine and other charges for a list of trips it concluded Henry ran up while on personal not official time, and concluded he ran up a tab of $17,466. Henry provided a document from the Pentagon's Washington Headquarters Services directorate dated Dec. 12, 2008, to Federal Times, that shows he agreed "in good faith" to pay that total.

During testimony to Pentagon investigators, Henry was asked about one such extension, when he extended a November 2007 trip to Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., to spend the Thanksgiving weekend in Hilton Head, S.C. The report said: "When asked why he was not on leave status over the holiday weekend, Mr. Henry responded, ‘... there's no differentiation for me, I mean, I don't ... do time and attendance. At the executive level, you don't take leave, you're never on leave.' "

Henry also said he relied on his staff members to stay current on travel guidelines. Yet during testimony to the IG's office, Henry "contended the investigative premise that junior staff could question the purpose of his travel was ‘irrational and dangerous,' " the report stated.

In an e-mail Friday to Federal Times, Henry stated: "I STRONGLY disagreed with the IG's processes, findings, and conclusions as they were presented to me. I believed just as strongly that I was serving my country, conducting official business in good faith, many times expending my own resources, and filling a void in an undermanned program - apparently the IG took a different view."

In January 2006, Henry traveled to Reno, Nev., on DoD business. He stayed the weekend and did some skiing, the report said. Henry hit the slopes again several months later when he extended a trip to Garmisch, Germany, in April 2006.

In December 2005, he extended a trip to Salt Lake City, "where he spent the Christmas holiday." In January 2006, he jetted off on official business to Seattle, and tacked on a few extra days - the IG determined he spent the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend there, "at leisure."

In June 2006, it was off to Hawaii, where he extended beyond his DoD business a stay in Maui. In December of that year, he jetted to Seattle again on business, then lengthened his stay and "spent the Christmas holiday," according to the IG. And in May 2007, he extended a business trip to San Francisco to include "the Memorial Day holiday."

"While there was some element of official travel associated with each of these trips," the report states, "Mr. Henry claimed and was reimbursed for 15 days of leisure activity under [Continuity of Operations(COOP)] status, and two days of leisure activity under otherwise official travel status."

A chart in the report showing a breakdown of charges the IG recommended Henry repay for a January 2007 trip to Reno includes a $135.65 expense for a limo.

The investigators found 10 other trips "where Mr. Henry extended travel for unofficial purposes," according to the report. "In 21 of 26 trips we examined, Mr. Henry claimed and received reimbursement for a combined 42 days of personal or unofficial activities he claimed as official duty under COOP, and for 2 days of personal or unofficial activities under otherwise official travel status."

Neal Fox, a former GSA SmartPay program manager and now a private consultant, called that claim "the weakest argument possible this is garden-variety fraud."

Fox said that "at the senior government executive level, this doesn't happen all that often it's just too easy to get caught these days. It is very rare that a case like this ever warrants a full investigation."

There was one common theme for these trips: On his official DoD itineraries, the IG found the term "at leisure" dominated the personal extension periods.

The IG's probe also revealed Henry routinely forced his staff to book trips with his preferred airlines, hotels and automobile rental agencies so he could receive reward points. DoD and federal travel regulations state officials should use travel providers under contract with the General Services Administration.

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