- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 13, 2016

With the exception of only one general, the Army’s top brass have escaped punishment in one of the service’s largest criminal investigations into contract fraud.

The Army Criminal Investigation Command has scrutinized thousands of lower-level officers to track down millions of dollars paid in recruit-referral bonuses from 2005 to 2012. Some of those targeted have asked why no senior leaders were punished, given that the Guard Recruiting Assistance Program was flawed from the start because of rushed planning and lax oversight.

The Washington Times can now report that those complaints are accurate, based on a previously unpublished Army inspector general’s finding obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

According to the August 2014 report, the inspector general singled out eight generals and senior civilians for suspected wrongdoing. Of those, the inspector general substantiated charges against five. Of those, the Army initially punished only two higher-ups.

Retired Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, who was chief of the National Guard Bureau when the Guard Recruiting Assistance Program started, received a letter of reprimand for failing to review the $400 million contract. Auditors judged it to be improperly awarded to a private company that disbursed the cash to recruiting assistants.

But Gen. Daniel B. Allyn, Army vice chief of staff, reviewed the case and opted not to put the reprimand into Gen. Blum’s personnel file.

That left punishment for only one higher-up: retired Lt. Gen. Clyde A. Vaughn, the Guard Recruiting Assistance Program founder who enthusiastically pushed the plan when he served as director of the Army National Guard. Gen. Vaughn, who denies wrongdoing and calls the scandal “overblown,” received a letter of reprimand for failing to “conserve government resources.”

A letter of reprimand can affect a retired soldier’s professional relationship with the Army, depending on the circumstances.

Jeffrey Addicott is a former Army judge advocate who is representing Guard Maj. John Suprynowicz, who is targeted by the Justice Department but has not been charged. The major, who received $85,000 in bonuses as a recruiting assistant, said CID agents have harassed him and that his promotion to lieutenant colonel has ended.

“It is the height of hypocrisy that those in leadership positions are shielded from accountability for their criminal actions, while those who can hardly get by on the military’s pay are forced to spend their life savings defending themselves,” said Mr. Addicott, a law professor at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio who also directs the school’s Center for Terrorism Law. “In turn, many of those accused of wrongdoing, such as Maj. Suprynowicz, did nothing wrong and the military, unable to prove wrongdoing, stabs them in the back by administrative means.”

The Times reported Feb. 11 that the Army’s criminal investigation failed to produce its ballyhooed numbers on fraud amounts and convictions. Two years ago, there were predictions of nearly $100 million in fraud involving 2,000 recruiting assistants. Today, only 492 soldiers have been convicted or suspected of crimes from among 94,329 recruiting assistants. The fraud amount stands at $6 million out of nearly $373 million in recruiting bonuses paid out.

John Goheen, spokesman for the National Guard Association of the United States, said he believes the $6 million figure also is overblown. He estimates the actual number will turn out to be $2 million, a fraction of the total contract over seven years.

“The Army’s actions appear to be totally focused on the Guard,” he said. “So why? Why? The $6 million the Army touts is highly questionable. The Army and Justice Department are trying to make that $2 million grow to justify the actions of CID.”

‘Breakdown in oversight’

In 2005, the Army National Guard faced a crisis. As part of the “total force,” it was expected to deploy combat units to two wars, Iraq and Afghanistan, to augment the active Army. But new recruits, facing frequent overseas duty, were harder to come by. The Guard fell 20,000 soldiers short of its 350,000 authorized level.

Gen. Vaughn and his staff had a brainstorm: create a program in which National Guard members can earn $2,000 or more for each man or woman they mentor into enlisting and going to boot camp. By the numbers, the Guard Recruiting Assistance Program proved a stunning success as recruiting ballooned.

Beneath the ballyhoo was a darker story. A small minority of recruiting assistants were submitting vouchers online for people they had no role in recruiting. By 2012, audits showed sufficient misconduct for the Army secretary to end the program and smaller recruiting programs started by the active and reserve Army.

The inspector general’s report said Gen. Blum, as National Guard chief, carried a legal obligation to review and approve all large contracts such as the one for the Guard Recruiting Assistance Program. But he failed to do so, putting him in violation of the Army Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement.

“Although the breakdown in oversight and accountability occurred throughout the [National Guard Bureau] procurement approval chain, the responsibility for the integrity of the contracting function ultimately rested with LTG Blum,” the inspector general said.

Gen. Blum’s defense to the inspector general was that he delegated such chores to his comptroller and had no recollection of having the recruiting program contract presented to him.

Mr. Goheen, the Guard association spokesman, said Mr. Blum declined to comment to The Times.

As for Gen. Vaughn, the IG report said his office “failed to establish or implement adequate policy and procedures to effectively manage GRAP, provide oversight and mitigate fraud.”

“LTG Vaughn’s personal emphasis and excessive focus on accessions made him ultimately responsible for ensuring policies and procedures necessary to safeguard and conserve government resources were in place,” the report said. “Testimony indicated LTG Vaughn aggressively pressed his subordinates to make GRAP work.”

In a statement to The Times, Mr. Vaughn said he was “kept in the dark” about fraud occurring out in the field where recruiting assistants successfully recruited over 140,000 soldiers, ending the manpower crisis.

He said CID purposely did not tell him about fraud cases.

“No one can correct a problem if you do not know it exists,” he said.

He said Army testimony to Congress in 2014 on the scandal was “vastly overblown.”

“It is tragic that far too many young soldiers, most of them innocent of any criminal conduct, have been swept up in criminal investigations spawned by sensational headlines, just because the Army cannot admit that their estimates were wildly off the mark,” Mr. Vaughn said. “The travesty continues today, and the plight of these soldiers is where attention needs to be paid.”

• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at rscarborough@washingtontimes.com.

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