“Senior Mentors” are high-ranking, retired military officers (usually generals and admirals) who use their skills and experience to advice active duty military in conducting various military exercises, war games and other operations.
Some of these senior mentors make as much as $340 an hour as part-time government consultants.
In addition to drawing their military pensions, some also work and/or consult for defense contractors (sometimes as full-time executives of such companies), sit on the boards of defense contractors and—at least in one case—even lobby the Defense Department, all at the same time.
USA TODAY reported extensively on this issue last week.
Subsequently, Senator John McCain and other members of Congress called for reviews and possible changes in such practices that could pose potential conflicts of interest and the perception of impropriety.
Last Friday, USA TODAY reported that a Senate oversight panel was launching an investigation into the Pentagon’s use of retired admirals and generals as paid advisers, and that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said that defense officials were also reviewing the practice.
Also, according to USA TODAY, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, said that she will investigate this issue and that the retired generals may provide a valuable service, “but until we know everything about what they’re getting paid and what services they are providing, I think the public has the right to raise eyebrows about what could be a very big conflict of interest,” she said.
In my “Are Pentagon “Senior Mentors” Pushing the Envelope?”, I expressed the opinion that while there could be the perception of impropriety and perhaps the possibility of conflict of interest, “the vast majority of our former flag rank officers are doing what is in the best interest of our military and the nation with honor and integrity, albeit the taxpayers’ generosity and credulity are being sorely tested in the face of such ‘triple, quadruple dipping.’”
Today, in its Opinion pages, USA TODAY provides its Editorial view and an “opposing view,” on this issue.
USA TODAY’s view is summarized by its leader and starting paragraph:
Our view on military mentors: Close loopholes that allow retired brass to triple-dip
Pentagon program rife with conflicts of interest, inflated pay.
Sometimes, something smells so bad that just about everyone recognizes it. That’s how it has been in the week since USA TODAY broke a story about retired admirals and generals being rehired by the services as highly paid “senior mentors,” even as most also get paid by defense contractors.
As outraged voices — from members of Congress to commentators — quickly recognized, the whole racket carries an odor of insider dealing and blatant conflicts of interest. Tellingly, details of the mentoring program came as a surprise to the congressional committees that oversee the Defense Department.
Those details: Not only are the retired officers being paid some $200 to $340 an hour (two or three times as much as top active-duty brass earn), they are also receiving six-figure pensions from the Pentagon. On top of that garden-variety double dipping, many are also being paid large sums by defense contractors that might benefit from contacts and information the mentors pick up at war games or other activities. In fact, at least 80% of 158 mentors whom USA TODAY uncovered have financial ties to military contractors.
USA TODAY concludes:
To be sure, the retired officers are patriotic Americans who have served their country well and can have much to offer today’s military. But these consulting arrangements reinforce some of the worst fears about the military-industrial complex and the bloated defense budget as gravy train.
When the services hire a mentor — defined by Webster’s as a “wise, loyal adviser” — there should be no confusion about where his interests lie. Mentors who wear too many hats leave an otherwise valuable enterprise reeking like Thanksgiving stuffing left too long in the refrigerator.
Robert Thornton, an active duty Army Major who serves at the Joint Center for International Security Forces Assistance at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, provides the opposing view, in part:
A valuable part of [developing the military’s capabilities for its missions] is the senior mentors program, which invites and pays retired senior military officers, ambassadors and other professionals for the observations, insights and lessons gained over their service.
The senior mentors are selected based on their performance and expertise. They have spent their lives accruing vital knowledge and experience…They have also had unique experiences that few currently on active duty attain. They have the added benefit of post-service reflection — something hard to come by in today’s tempo.
Recent news stories might give the impression that these senior mentors are using their status to peddle expensive hardware or contracts. I have never seen that — ever.
All the mentors I’ve met have a love of country and the military. Many have sons, daughters and close family members and friends who are serving on active duty and have a connection to the outcome that has no price tag. Taxpayers are getting their money’s worth, and perhaps then some.
The author is a retired U.S. Air Force officer and a writer.