“It remains a priority for the chairman, and we’ll continue to work this issue very hard,” Pentagon press secretary George Little said. “We’re troubled by the allegations surrounding what’s been reported with respect to Navy officers, and we need to continue to grapple with this issue [of misconduct].”
Martin L. Cook, professor of leadership and ethics at the Naval War College, said he thinks the growing number of ethical violations stems from Bathsheba syndrome, in which senior officers begin to abuse the privileges that come with their success.
“Senior officers have been successful for so long, they take it for granted and develop inflated senses of ego,” he said.
Steven Olson, an ethics professor at Georgia State University and co-founder of the Center for Ethics and Corporate Responsibility, said the type of unethical behavior exhibited in the bribery case usually happens when spending goes unchecked.
“In big buildups, the audit function tends to weaken and there becomes more tendency to engage in those [initial] behaviors that eventually end up in major fraud,” said Mr. Olson, who leads business executives through a military ethics class at the Marine Corps base at Quantico, Va.
“You see this in business when things are really booming,” he said. “When there’s a lot of money flowing through, it’s hard to keep track of it all, and that’s when people typically engage in fraud. They know the level that will be checked, and they do things just below that level.”
Mr. Cook said the problem could worsen as the military curtails training because of budget cuts.
A course that includes ethics training for new one-star generals has been canceled or curtailed twice this year because of budget cuts and the partial government shutdown in October. The Joint Chiefs’ capstone course, which requires senior officers from across the country to spend five consecutive weeks training together, is mandated by the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act, but the shutdown forced all of those who were traveling to return home.
“You need to constantly re-prime the importance of ethics, of standards, and the brain will remember what’s been most recently taught,” Mr. Olson said.