Gates orders review of military mentor program

For immediate release: Feb 27, 2010

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.

Retired officers working as senior mentors “should be motivated to do so out of service” and not monetary gain, Morrell said.

Those developments follow a USA TODAY investigation that showed how retired admirals and generals help run classified war games that examine strategies and weapons systems, even as they consult for defense contactors with an interest in the military’s needs. Some retired officers earn hundreds of dollars an hour as mentors, while earning more from defense companies and collecting pensions of as much as $220,000 a year.

The Pentagon review of senior mentor programs started after USA TODAY published its first story on Nov. 18. Morrell said Gates was concerned by the review’s initial findings.

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Gates asked Deputy Secretary William Lynn to lead the new probe. Lynn, a former top lobbyist for defense contractor Raytheon, received a waiver to take his job because President Obama limited the number of lobbyists who could join his administration.

Much of the compensation paid to mentors is hidden from public view, but in one case, the Army paid retired general Dan McNeill $281,625 for his work from December 2008 through August 2009, federal records show. Gates earns $197,600 a year for overseeing the nation’s military.

Morrell originally said Gates considered mentor pay to be “obscene.” Morrell later called USA TODAY to say that he had overstated the secretary’s view. Gates, he said, wanted to convey that he had deep concerns about how much mentors are paid.

Since the retired officers are hired as contractors or subcontractors, they are not subject to ethics and disclosure rules about their activities that would apply if they were hired as temporary employees.

Congress has also begun its own inquiries. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who is leading a Senate oversight committee investigation, wrote Gates last month asking that the Pentagon give her subcommittee records relating to senior mentors by Dec. 22. “There’s a veil of secrecy here that should not be tolerated,” McCaskill said Wednesday.