Wednesday, February 05, 2014

He wants thanks for the 2 million







In 1980, the comedy classic (on the American Film Institute's 100 Funniest Movies), Private Benjamin was released.  Jewish American Princess Judy Benjamin (Goldie Hawn in an Academy Award nominated performance) becomes a widow on her wedding night when Yale (Albert Brooks) dies while they're having sex.  With no husband, no plans for her future and in a state of grief, Judy ends up spilling her problems on talk radio and a man schedules a meeting with her to help her address them.  The man is army recruiter Jim Ballard (Harry Dean Stanton).  Spinning a series of lies to make his recruitment number, he gets her signed up.

On base, she refuses to unpack due to a mix up.  Captain Doreen Lewis (the late Eileen Brennan, in an Academy Award nominated performance) is shown the new recruits by Sgt LC Ross (Hal Williams) and is addressing them as they stand at order -- all at order except for Judy Benjamin who files her nails before going over and touching the Captain on the shoulder.

Judy: Excuse me, 

Captain Lewis:  Huh?

Judy:  I hate to interrupt you but, uhm, could I speak to you for a sec?

Captain Lewis: Oh, my Lord.  Sgt, would you look at this.

Sgt Ross:  I've seen it, ma'am. 

Captain Lewis:  What's -- what's your name, princess, huh?

Judy: Judy.  

Captain Lewis:  Judy.

Judy:  Judy Benjamin.

Captain Lewis:  Judy Benjamin.

Judy:  Uhm, I think they sent me to the wrong place.

Captain Lewis:  Uh-huh.

Judy:  See, I did join the army but I joined a different army.

Captain Lewis:  Uh-huh.

Judy:  I joined the one with the condos and the private rooms. 

Captain Lewis and Sgt Ross laugh.

Judy: What?

Judy: No, really.  My-my recruiter, Jim Ballard, told me that --

Captain Lewis: I don't care! I don't care what your lousy recruiter told you, Benjamin. Now I'm telling you there is no other army. 

Judy:  Wait a minute.  I don't want to have to go to your boss or anything, okay? 

Captain Lewis mouths the words "my boss."

Judy:  I just  -- Look, to be truthful with you, I can't sleep in a room with 20 strangers.

Captain Lewis:  Oh, dear.

Judy: And I mean look at this place.  The army couldn't afford drapes?  I mean I'll be up at the crack of dawn here.  And I have to tell you, I am frankly a little shocked

Captain Lewis: You're shocked?

Judy: Yes.

Captain Lewis: Why?

Judy: This place is a sty.  

Captain Lewis:  It's a sty?

Judy:  Yeah, I mean, look-look.

Judy lifts up a pillow on a bed and points to it.

Judy:  Look-look at these stains.

Captain Lewis:  Mm-hmm.

Judy:  God knows where this has been 

Captain Lewis:  Yeah.

Judy:  And have you seen the bathroom?

Captain Lewis:  What, uh -- Do you think that the latrine -- Do you think that it's unsanitary? 

Judy:  Oh, it's disgusting. 

Captain Lewis:  Disgusting?

Judy:  There are urinals in there. 

Captain Lewis:  Well that's because this is the army, Benjamin, it's not a sorority house.  Uh, may I see your toothbrush?  Please?  Please?

I don't care what your lousy recruiter said, Captain Lewis snarls.  Recruiters have probably the worst image of anyone in the military.  They have that image for a number of reasons.

During wartime, they are the people seen as luring innocents into becoming cannon fodder.  That's why recruiting stations are protested during wars.  It's why many people believe military recruiters should not be allowed on campus.

Their job is to meet quotas.  They have lied to do so.  Iraq War veteran and war resister Joshua Key has spoken and written of how his recruiter swore to him that if he signed up he would be stationed in Oklahoma and never sent out of the country.

They get away with these lies.  Even if their lies are recorded, no court holds them accountable and the brass doesn't give a damn what recruiters say, only that they make their quotas.

I note that because I had to sit through a Senate hearing this morning where people were praising the 'good' recruiters.  Who are the good ones?

Nancy Meyers, Charles Shyer and Harvey Miller wrote a very funny script (and were nominated for an Academy Award for this screenplay).  When we laugh, we're generally responding to one of two things: shock (disbelief) or recognition.   Private Benjamin had a lot of scenes people could laugh at due to recognition.

Recruiter Ballard: What does that look like to you?

Judy:  What?  Club Med?

Recruiter Ballard:  It's the Fort Ord Army Base in Monterey, California. 

Judy:  Those look like condos.

Recruiter Ballard:  Mm-hmm.  And every soldier gets his or her own private room. 

Judy:  What are these?  Yachts?

Recruiter Ballard:  The army is the best kept secret in the world, Judy.

Judy:  Looks great.  But, see, you don't know me.  I'm not -- I'm not the army type.

Recruiter Ballard:  You can forget that old brown boot image of the army. It's the army of the 80s.  You'd love it.  All the ladies do -- all 89,000 of them. Here, check out this list of jobs. There's over 300 jobs there and there's only a couple of them not offered to the ladies -- trained killers, stuff like that.  How much do you earn now per month?

Judy:  Now? 

Recruiter Ballard:  Mm-hmm.

Judy: Nothing. 

Recruiter Ballard: Nothing?

Judy:  Thanks.

Judy starts to cry.

Recruiter Ballard:  What are you thinking 

Judy:  I'm thinking about . . . my family . . . and my house . . . and all the gifts I have to return 

Recruiter Ballard:  Judy, you shouldn't be saddled with a lot of decisions and a lot of responsibilities right now.  Now I'm prepared to offer you $458 a month, train you in the job of your choice, pay for your food, your housing, all your medical  and give you a thirty-day paid vacation.  And let me tell you something else.  A lady with your education and background could easily land an assignment in Europe.

Judy:  Europe?  I do need to get away.

Recruiter Ballard:  And I promise you we'll get you in the best physical shape you've ever been in in your life.

Judy:  It'd be like three years at La Costa. 

Recruiter Ballard:  La Costa, that's good.

Judy:  What if I hate it once I get there?

Recruiter Ballard:  Quit.  It's a job like anything else. 

That's a recognizable scene.  And it's funny that it happens to Judy Benjamin.  She's a film character -- a great one -- and without those lies, you've got no storyline for the film.

But this happens over and over in real life and that's not funny.

I had to sit through a hearing where the Chair praised recruiters and the great work they do.  And was bothered by the latest recruiting scandal -- and surprised by it.  There's nothing surprising about it.

"However, I'm disappointed that it took a small story in the Washington Post in 2012 for this Subcommittee to even have an inkling about problems with this large contract," declared Senator Claire McCaskill this morning, "and that it took almost two years and our repeated insistence for the Army to inform the Subcommittee that the problems that the Post reported were just the tip of the iceberg."

Yesterday cam news of fraud in a government program used to recruit for the US military.  We had other things to cover in Monday's snapshot and that was fine because I knew we could grab the issue  via today's hearing.

This morning the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight held a hearing and heard from a series of witnesses: Lt Gen William T. Grisoli (Director of the Army Staff), Maj Gen David E. Quantock (Commanding General of the Army's Criminal Investigation Command and Army Corrections Command), Joseph P. Bentz (Army Audit Agency's Principal Deputy Auditor General), retired Lt Gen Clyde A. Vaugh (former Director of Army National Guard), retired Col Michael L. Jones (former Division Chief Army National Guard Strength Maintenance Division), Philip Crane (president of Docupak) and retired Lt Col Kay Hensen (former contracting officer National Guard).  The Subcommittee Chair is Clare McCaskill and the Ranking Member is Rob Johnson.

We'll note this overview of the scandal that the Chair provided.

Chair Claire McCaskill:  The Recruiting Assistance Program was born in 2005 when the Army National Guard was struggling to meet its recruitment numbers due to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  The National Guard's Recruiting Assistance Program, known as GRAP,  would provide incentives to the National Guard soldiers and civilians to act as informal recruiters or recruiting assistants.  These recruiting assistants would receive a payment between $2,000 and $7,500 for every new recruit.  The contract was run out of the Army National Guard's Strength Maintenance Division, known as ASM, and administered by a contractor Docupak.  The recruiting assistants were hired by Docupak as subcontractors.  After the program was put in place, the National Guard began to meet its recruiting goals and the active Army and Army Reserve began their own similar programs.  In 2007, however, Docupak discovered instances of potential fraud which it referred to -- which it referred to the Army.  Four years later, after suspecting a pattern of fraud, the Army requested a program wide audit.  And what the audit found was astounding.  Thousand of National Guard and Army Reserve participants who are associated with payments that are high or medium risk for fraud with an estimated total amount of 29 million dollars paid fraudulently.  This criminal fraud investigation is one of the largest that the Army has ever conducted -- both in terms of sheer volume of fraud and the number of participants. Although recruiters were prohibited from participating in the RAP program because recruiting was already part of their job duties.  Investigators found that potentially over 1200 recruiters fraudulently obtained payments.  For example, in Texas, a former member of the National Guard was sentenced to four years and nine months in prison for leading a conspiracy to obtain $240,000 in fraudulent recruiting bonuses.  He did this by providing kickbacks to National Guard recruiters in return for the names and Social Security numbers of  recruits who had in fact already been recruited.  The fraud was not limited to service members because anyone could sign up to be a recruiting member.  There were also cases of people not affiliated with the Army stealing names and Social Security numbers of potential recruits and receiving referral payments that they were not entitled to.   Even one case of fraud would have been too many.  Instead, we now know that thousands of service members, their family and friends may have participated in schemes to defraud the government they served and the tax payers.

In 2005, the 'brief' Iraq War -- sold as a cake walk and one that, Rumsfeld and others insisted, would find the US greeted as heroes with roses strewn in their paths -- was already obviously not going to be brief.

In 1990, Bully Boy Bush's father, US President George HW Bush, went to war on Iraq.  That was the Gulf War and it lasted from August 2, 1990 to February 28, 1991.  By 2005, it was clear that the Iraq War was not going to be brief.  In 2005, the Afghanistan War would hit the four-year mark.

That alone was enough to depress recruitment.  In addition, January 29, 2002, Bully Boy Bush gave a State of the Union Address in which he referred to the "axis of evil" -- a group of countries: Iraq, Iran and North Korea.   Reports that the US government would declare war on Iran were already making the rounds -- and would continue to including in The New Yorker -- and it was thought that a war on Iran or North Korea or both was likely.

This depressed recruitment.

The Iraq War was illegal.  That depressed recruitment.

War resisters within the ranks were increasing and the rah-rah 'turned corner, democracy created' of the administration was countered with the voices as well as due to the Abu Ghraib prison abuse and War Crimes scandal -- Seymour Hersh (The New Yorker) and CBS News broke the news on that.

"We needed recruits,"  Chair McCaskill  noted.  "We were in a very stressful position for command.  We were. really, for one of the first times in our history, beginning to use the Guard and the Reserves in operational capacity.  They were being asked to do what they were never asked to do before."

And that depressed recruitment as "weekend warriors" were now on a never-ending weekend outside the country.  The recruitment was also depressed by the stop-loss policy -- where, when your contract was up and you were out, the US government would inform you that you weren't leaving, you were being stop-lossed and kept in the military.  This was referred to as "the backdoor draft."

Recruitment was also depressed by the tours of duty. During Vietnam, you did a tour and that was that unless you wanted to go back.  In the '00s, you did a tour and it stretched out and was longer and you then found out you were being deployed again and again.  And the down time was non-existent.

In this environment, the program was embraced and embraced so warmly, apparently, that legal aspects were not considered by the military command before this program was implemented.  Chair McCaskill and Ranking Member  Johnson attempted to establish the vetting of the program, by the military, before it was implemented and the witness before them were unable to confirm if it was ever vetted or examined before it was utilized.

We'll note this exchange from the hearing.

Chair Claire McCaskill:  The first is let me get a sense of why it took four years from the time that Docupak gave you some indication that there was a problem?  Can you lay out for us in a way that would make me feel more comfortable, why it took until 2011 for the audit to be called for.

Maj Gen Daivd Quantock:  Chairman McCaskill, I'd like to take a shot at that question.

Chair Claire McCaskill: Thank you.

Maj Gen David Quantock:  If you look at the -- at the -- at how the case came to everybody's attention.  First off, it's only two cases in 2007 that are CID investigations and they came through a fraud hotline.

Chair Claire McCaskill:  Okay.

Maj Gen David Quantock:  So understand that over this period of time, CID investigated over 43,000 criminal investigations.

Chair Claire McCaskill:  Right.

Maj Gen David Quantock:  So two cases in 2007 wouldn't have raised.  Then in 2008, there were five cases.

Chair Claire McCaskill:  Okay.

Maj Gen David Quantock:  And then of course that would not send a signal.  And then two more cases in 2009.  And then in 2010 we had ten cases in one year that one of our, uh, Huntsville agents, in Huntsville, Alabama, realized there's something that could be misconstrued -- or cause some kind of systematic concern.  So they raised it to us, we took a kind of hard look at it and that's when we basically went over to Triple A and said, 'Can you take a hard look at this, there looks to be -- there could be some kind of systematic failures in this program.  Could you do a D dive on this program? to see if there's something we should be concerned about other than the 19 cases  that we're doing?'  In addition to that, Docupak came to us in 2010 because they got the same ten cases we did.  And they also made us aware that there seeing some irregularities as well.  So it was a combination of Docupak, our agents at Huntsville -- Huntsville, Alabama office.  They really brought this to life and that's when we asked Triple A to take a look at the entire program.

Chair Claire McCaskill:  Well make sure you convey to, uhm, that investigator, that law enforcement professional in Huntsville our appreciation that he raised the flag in 2010.  So basically what you're saying, General, is that, up until 2010, this appeared to be isolated incidents as opposed to a pattern and a systemic fraud?

Maj Gen David Quantock:  Yes, ma'am.  I've got 150 fraud investigators, civilians, and we look at dozens of fraud investigations.  So this was just another one of those kind of dots on a map that crossed the entire United States.  Not only that the 19 cases were, again, across the United States.  So there was really nothing that just jumped to our attention that would --

Chair Claire McCaskill:  Okay.

Maj Gen David Quantock:  -- direct us that we've got a major problem here.

Chair Claire McCaskill:  Uhm, Gen Grisoli, one of the things -- and I'll get to questions for the auditor after Senator Johnson has a chance to question -- but one of the things I'm worried about is holding people accountable.  And this is maybe a question for both you and Gen Quantock.  I know that two years ago we identified 1,200 recruiters and over 2,000 recruiting assistants.  I know we're looking at a statue of limitations.  I'm really concerned that there are going to be people that there are people that wear a uniform that are going to beat this by virtue of the statute of limitations or they're only going to get "titled," not going to lose benefits, be allowed to retire and go their way.  I mean, these are criminals that have dishonored the uniform that we are all so proud of.  And I'd like you to address that briefly, if you would, what we need to be doing statutorily so that either lengthening the statute of limitations or making sure that if there is some kind of procedure internally that you lose your benefits because I don't want to mess with anybody's benefits if you've served our country honorably but if you've served dishonorably I think you deserve more than the word titled in your file.

Lt Gen William Grisoli:   Madam Chairwoman, we-we have the same concern you have on this particular issue.  And as we prioritize our efforts, we try to prioritize the greater risk of falling into that category where the statute of limitations.  As far as looking at some assistance from Congress?  We're okay now but I think we may have to come back and ask for some assistance.  We'll let you know as we work with you through these problem sets and we address the highest priority first and the ones that are closest to the statutory limits.  We'll work with that and communicate with your staff.

Chair Claire McCaskill:  It's going to break my heart if a lot of people get away with this on behalf of the amazingly brave and courageous people who step across the line.  It's just going to break my heart.  And we've got to figure out a way to hold every single one of them accountable.  If nothing else, just for the benefit of all those, the vast, vast majority that serve so well.

Lt Gen William Grisoli:  I would --

Maj Gen David Quantock: Madam Chairwoman --

Lt Gen William Grisoli:  --  agree.  Go ahead, sir.

Maj Gen David Quantock:  Madam Chairwoman, I would just say that was one of our major points, about prioritizing the cases was based on the age of these case so that we could get after and do exactly that.  The other thing was going through basically over a hundred thousand people that could be held accountable in trying to figure out the high, medium and low risk so we didn't waste our time on the low risk cases and we went after the high and the medium risk and also the biggest dollar cost that was lost. All of those things were sort of our focus so we could really focus in.  That's why today we've got 104 cases adjudicated and 16 individuals already in confinement.  And we, again, continue to go after this very aggressively across the entire [word not audible, the general's accidentally hit the microphone as he waived his hand and the 'thump' was louder than his voice] force.

Has anyone been punished?  I don't believe so but decide for yourself based on this exchange.

Chair Claire McCaskill:  Let's talk about leadership and fraud in this instance. There is evidence that one major general committed fraud, 18 full colonels, 11 lieutenant colonels and dozens of other mid-level and junior officers.  I need to know -- and if you can't give me specifically all of those today -- I need to know for the record what has occurred in all of those instances in terms of holding them accountable.  It is particularly egregious when it is our leadership.  And that's why I hope they've gotten priority and I'd love you to speak to that Gen Quantock. 

Maj Gen David Quantock:  Yes, ma'am.  Actually, that was our first priority, was to look at all senior level misconduct up front. So in addition to age, we also looked at senior level conduct.  I'd have to take it for the record to go back and, uh, breakdown all those cases.  But again it was dollar value, it was age of the case and it was, of course, our first priority was senior leader misconduct before we looked at anything else.

Chair Claire McCaskill:  To your knowledge, have any of them gone to prison?

Maj Gen David Quantock:  Uh, no, ma'am, to my knowledge, none of them have gone to prison.

Chair Claire McCaskill:  Have any of them lost benefits to your knowledge?

Maj Gen David Quantock:  Uh, no, ma'am, not to my knowledge.

Chair Claire McCaskill:  Have any of them been forced to resign from their service?

Maj Gen David Quantock:  Uh . . . [long pause] I'd have to take that one for the record, ma'am.

Chair Claire McCaskill:  Okay. It's very important that we know that.

Maj Gen David Quantock:  Yes, ma'am.  Absolutely. 

Chair Claire McCaskill:  I think we've learned one thing over the last six or seven years of contracting oversight and that is the way you really begin to change a culture that would allow this to happen is to have everyone see that the folks with all the stuff [gestures to shoulders indicating military ribbons and decorations -- the military brass] were held as accountable as a young member of the Guard who figured out he could scam the system and game this to make thousands of dollars he was not entitled to -- or she.

Maj Gen David Quantock:  I will tell you, though, one of the leaders was-was for one case and it was for $7,500  because they brought in a doctor.  In that particular case, the statute of limitations did rise up and the Assistant US Attorney failed to go forward with the case because it wasn't that the statue of limitations had then expired at that point but, by the time it went through the courts, it would have.

Again, doesn't sound like anyone's been punished.  And if, in 2010, you put a priority on investigating officers involved in this?

By 2014, you would have handed out some punishments.

Quit lying.  The whole thing's a joke.  And why are we surprised that some recruiters would steal?

There is a code for the military and it does include forbidding lying.

But the lies of recruiters are tolerated and laughed about within the military.

But now you're surprised that thousands of dollars would be stolen by people?

If you tolerate, if you encourage lying in recruitment, why are you shocked when the same people move on up to theft?

If there's no honor code being followed, why are you surprised that there are no ethics?

McCaskill and others went on and on about the horror of stolen money and it is a horror and I'm not dismissing it on some nonsense grounds of, "It's only thousands!  Do you know how much was spent on the Iraq War!"

I'm not dismissing at all.

It is theft and it should be punished.

But hop off your high horses because Congress never explores what recruiters do and recruiters are never held accountable for misleading and lying.

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