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Some military advisers quit over new Pentagon rules

Jan. 20, 2011 - 06:28PM   |  
By TOM VANDEN BROOK, USA TODAY   |   Comments
Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered a review of the so-called mentor program in December 2009. New rules cap mentors' pay at $179,000 annually.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered a review of the so-called mentor program in December 2009. New rules cap mentors' pay at $179,000 annually. (Defense Department)

Seven retired admirals and generals hired by the military as consultants will end their advisory roles rather than comply with new regulations requiring them to divulge outside income to avoid a conflict of interest.

The former officers are among 158 Pentagon retirees known as "senior mentors" who have been identified stories as getting as much as $440 an hour to offer advice on war plans and weapons systems.

A USA Today investigation found that 80 percent of the mentors had financial ties to defense contractors that they were not required to reveal to the public.

The Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force have used the services of about 30 senior mentors. Most of the other mentors advise Pentagon departments that do not fall under the main service branches.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said that seven senior mentors declined this month to file financial disclosure forms and bowed out of the mentors program because they said the requirement is too intrusive.

"We don't think the requirements are onerous," Whitman said. "These are appropriate salary caps as well as necessary transparency."

Among those mentors who work for the four branches:

Six former generals at the Army's Battle Command Training Program at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

Four retired admirals at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I.

Ex-commanders advising on war plans for the Marine Corps at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.

Retired Air Force generals who help the service run war games.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates required last year that mentors disclose their assets and business ties as a condition of employment, and also capped their pay at $179,000. This month, President Obama made that policy law when he signed the defense authorization act.

If mentors don't want to disclose their financial ties, they shouldn't be involved in shaping government decisions, said Mandy Smithberger, a national security investigator with the Project on Government Oversight. "We're better off not having them if it's too onerous," she said.

Military ethics officials are reviewing the forms to look for potential conflicts, Whitman said.

Dozens of senior mentors advise Pentagon agencies including missile defense and divisions such as Central Command, which is responsible for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is not known whether any mentors from those agencies have opted out of the program, Whitman said.

Rep. Robert Andrews, D-N.J., says the public can only judge whether mentors have conflicts of interest by seeing whether they work for defense contractors that benefit from decisions such as the awarding of contracts, he said.

"Filing a financial disclosure is a basic requirement of any position of public trust," he said.

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