Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Senior Mentors at the Food Trough?

Is there a problem in the "Retired GOFO Military Industrial Complex?" Do we have a people problem, or a process problem?

The latest in a series of articles on the subject from
USAToday, let's review.
In a marketplace awash in consulting firms that help defense companies sell to the Pentagon, the Durango Group has a unique advantage.
The Colorado-based firm has become a base of operations for retired officers who also are handsomely paid by the military for their advice. No other defense consulting firm employs more "senior mentors" than Durango. Of the 59 former officers who work for Durango, 15 also serve as mentors, a USA TODAY investigation found.

As Durango associates, the retired officers are paid to help private companies win and administer Pentagon contracts. As mentors, the retirees are paid by the military to help run war games, which also gives them access to classified strategies and weapons systems. Durango cites these mentoring assignments on its website as signs of its associates' unique connections.

Along with their work for Durango and the military, these retired officers, mostly from the Air Force, are paid advisers, consultants and corporate directors on the boards of at least 20 companies, according to public records. Three of them work for private equity firms to help them identify, buy and then run defense contractors.

Durango's ability to mix mentoring and consulting work illustrates how closely the private interests of some mentors overlap with their military advisory jobs. The firms' mentors move seamlessly between roles as paid advisers to the services and paid consultants to defense companies in the same subject areas, USA TODAY found.

As a result, Durango and the mentors it employs draw income from multiple sources. Both get paid by the military for advice and by defense contractors who want consulting help. The firm also benefits from having its mentors serve as corporate directors or advisers for other companies.

That kind of overlap is not illegal. But some analysts say it should be.

"That is an amazing conflict of interest," said Craig Holman of the non-partisan watchdog group Public Citizen. "They are working for two masters. Are they pursuing the public interest, or are they pursuing the contractors' interests? ... The conflict of interest law ought to be expanded to cover this."
Craig needs to take a powder - or at least talk to some Senior Mentors - he really doesn't know what he is talking about. Then again, Public Citizen it he left-wing squaking organization founded by Ralph Nader, no don't expect educated nuance WRT military matters from them. Bad on USAToday for even interviewing them. At first, I almost stopped reading the article .... but I smelt something and kept going.

We really have two issues here; first Senior Mentors and second retired GOFO working for defense companies. Let's start with the second, and then move back to the first.

To avoid conflicts of interest, what do we have right now? Well - there is a one-year "cooling off period" right now.
... federal ethics law prohibits newly retired senior employees from representing a company before their former agency for one year.
As long-time readers know, I think that is lame. The Salamander Bill has yet to find a single sponsor in either the House or the Senate (of either party). Sad, as for years it has remained roughly unchanged:
"No General or Flag Officer, or SES, shall for a period of five years following retirement, serve in any capacity with a publicly or privately held company which does business with the Department of Defense - or receive any remuneration of cash, cash equivalents, or services from any officer, consultant, or employee of same."
...or something like that. That's my initial guidance; I'll let the lawyers make sense of it.

So, if you have an issue with GOFO influencing DOD decisions - start there and leave the Senior Mentors alone - though you may want to look at how you source them; more on that in a bit - but let's spend some time on what Senior Mentors are.

Senior Mentors are retired GOFO who, in theory, are no longer part of the Byzantine intrigue of the uniformed GOFO herd and as a result can provided clear, direct, and unbiased advice. The Executive Summary of what they do is that they shadow a GOFO and/or Command Group during an exercise, work-up, or development program to provide advice and perspective --- and more often than not --- tell that GOFO what those in his Staff either cannot or will not tell them.

Senior Mentors bring broad experience and provide leavening to many GOFO as they build needed depth and experience at their new level of command responsibility. It doesn't matter if you are a One-Star or a Four-Star: a wise word from a respected elder is worth its weight in gold when you are alone in your decisions, especially for a junior GOFO who has perhaps spent too much time in DC as of late, and too little time Operationally.

At least in my experience, there has never been a Senior Mentor that was selling soap. There is too much feedback and too many well tuned BS meters to let any of that get traction if it started.

The use of Senior Mentors by itself is a non-issue. So, why is this coming up so often as of late? Ungh. The fallen nature of man - best understood by the Jesuit trained - comes in to play.

So, who runs the Senior Mentor Program? Some Old Horse Col.? A retired O-6 GS-14?

Sigh, no.
... the service's program is run by a defense contractor, Northrop Grumman..
... and it seems that this is what creates the problem - and everyone is trying to work around it.
The Army used a loophole in federal ethics law to award lucrative contracts to two recently retired generals, departing from its standard practice for hiring senior advisers, according to public records and interviews.
During the past two years, the Army wanted to bring back two former generals, John Vines and Dan McNeill, to advise commanders as part of its "senior mentor" program.
The Army found a way around the rule. Instead of hiring them as defense company subcontractors, as it does for roughly two dozen other Army mentors, the service contracted directly with McNeill and Vines. McNeill received his contract after the Army wrote specific bid solicitations that applied to him and perhaps a few other retired generals. Vines received contracts without competition, records show.
Well - if it went off that way - then "you" just lost my support. There is being "in DC," and being "of DC."

That is "of DC" - and it is a classic case of quasi-benign corruption. If as reported, some people need to be fired and if needed - charged - and the way we run the system changed. For goodness sakes - get some retired old-goat USMC Col. with broad Major Staff experience to run the thing and be done with it.

Back to the fallen nature of man. Review what a
retired GOFO makes from the taxpayer. Now soak in what we are talking about.
All told, the Army paid McNeill $281,625 from December 2008 through August 2009, federal records show. McNeill told USA TODAY he also consults for defense firms but declined to name them. He isn't required to tell the Army about them, either.
Over a quarter-million dollars for nine-months work. That whole thing stinks - which is why you have this.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has ordered a high-level review of the military's senior mentor programs, including whether retired officers hired as advisers are overpaid and whether their private work for contractors poses a conflict of interest, his spokesman said Wednesday.
Gates "has real concerns about the levels of compensation, and the potential for conflict of interest" in the mentor programs, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters.
So far, it looks like USAToday is the only one really tracking on this story. This is a story. BZ to SECDEF for looking in to this. It makes all retired officers look bad.

The problem isn't the Senior Mentor Program - it looks like the problem is who is running it and the rules it is being run under.

Money can be a cancer - the first thing it can consume is your good name. Let the investigation go forward ... and someone sponsor the Salamander Bill.

1 comment:

Term Papers said...

<span> I have mixed feelings about the program. What the USA Today article did not highlight very well is the instructional aspects of the program and the knowledge that is passed on during the course of the Command Post exercises. Most Senior Mentors I saw-took their role seriously and also were very careful to respect the boundaries of what could and could not be said. </span>
Term papers