Retired officer’s dual roles for Pentagon raise questions

For immediate release: Feb 17, 2010

WASHINGTON — After retiring from the Marine Corps in December 2003, Emil “Buck” Bedard headed back to work — for both the Pentagon and defense contractors.

Two months after leaving the service as a lieutenant general, Bedard became an adviser for the Pentagon’s Joint Forces Command, a job that this year paid him about $1,600 per day to help run war games and mentor high-level commanders on how to lead troops in battle. Bedard also signed on with seven defense contractors as a corporate director or consultant.

For one of those firms, Bedard marketed a video surveillance system to the Marines during the time he was getting paid by the Pentagon for mentoring, even after a general concluded that the technology “did not work as advertised,” a USA TODAY investigation found.

Bedard’s activities present a case study of the kinds of situations that arise when retired senior officers become paid Pentagon advisers even as they market products to the military as consultants for defense contractors. USA TODAY reported last month that roughly 130 retired generals and admirals have held taxpayer-funded military jobs as “senior mentors” while also working for defense contractors.

Bedard’s case goes beyond getting paid to advise the government and industry at the same time. E-mails and interviews show that Bedard pushed for his former service branch to buy the video system, including sending e-mails while on mentoring assignments.

“In the corporate world, this … would not be tolerated,” said Kirk Hanson, director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University in California.

“It is not uncommon for someone to consult with their former employer, but it is a major concern if they are simultaneously representing groups that sell to or try to influence their former employer.”

CASHING IN: Ex-officers paid well for advice
MILITARY MENTORS: 158 retired generals and admirals
PROBES: Inquiries look into use of advisers
LEGAL LOOPHOLE: Mentoring deals bypass ethics law

Because senior mentors are brought in on contract, they don’t have to adhere to the conflict-of-interest provisions that would apply if they were hired directly by the government as temporary employees.

No rules prohibit them from collecting fees to represent defense firms before the same officers with whom they have worked as paid military mentors. And the mentors continue to receive their military pensions, which can reach $220,000 a year.

There is nothing illegal about the mentors’ dual roles. Members of Congress and the military services are reviewing the mentor programs, however, following the disclosures by USA TODAY.

“There are multiple hats being worn, multiple streams of income from different sources, and that’s why we’ve got to get some rules of the road here,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who is leading a Senate oversight subcommittee investigation.

Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the services are looking to guard against “conflicts of interest or a perception of conflicts of interest.” But military mentors are not required to disclose their business affiliations, making it difficult for the public to know whether a conflict exists.

Sentrus, a military contractor, paid Bedard up to $10,000 a month to sell products to the Marine Corps, said Richard Weinstein, the company’s president. Bedard pitched the system to commanders in Iraq, Weinstein said.

Bedard, who traveled to Iraq as a military mentor, does not dispute that, but said he never inappropriately combined his mentoring with his work for defense contractors.

“I just did not mix that business with what I did with Marines anytime I was in-country,” he said in an interview.

Even so, the Joint Forces Command stopped using Bedard as an adviser after USA TODAY asked in October about his actions for Sentrus, Maj. Gen. David Edgington, the command’s chief of staff, said in a statement.

A preliminary review found that Bedard did not abuse his mentoring position, Edgington said.

The review was limited; Weinstein, for example, said he was not interviewed.

Seeking ‘access to people’

Ultimately, the Marines rejected the video system that Bedard and Sentrus wanted them to buy, but not before Bedard worked three years to keep it alive.

Sentrus designed the video system to search for insurgents underneath bridges, for example, where they might be planting bombs or setting up ambushes unseen by drones overhead. The system’s cameras can be concealed in fake rocks and construction debris, with the images monitored remotely.

Fighting in Anbar province, the heart of the Sunni-based insurgency, the Marines had a great need in 2005 and 2006 for technology that could counter increasingly devastating roadside bombs. Snipers and ambushes took a toll as well, with 40 attacks per day in late 2006, Marine Corps records show.

Sentrus won its first contract to sell the video system to the Marines on Sept. 30, 2005, before the firm hired Bedard, Pentagon records show.

That contract was the result of an urgent request for such technology from battlefield commanders, according to a Navy inspector general’s report. Initially for $9.8 million, the contract had the potential to grow to $313 million if the Marines asked for more.

But the video system didn’t work well, Marine documents show. The system’s batteries ran out of power too quickly, and its equipment proved too large and difficult to hide.

In 2006, Weinstein, a Missouri businessman, went looking for someone to help spread awareness among Marines about the system. He turned to Bedard, whom he said he met through a friend in Las Vegas, where Bedard has a home.

Bedard, who was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps in 1967, retired with a résumé that reads like a roadmap of U.S. military experiences from the last 45 years —Vietnam, Desert Shield, Desert Storm and Somalia.

He finished his career as the Corps’ assistant commandant for plans, policies and operations, a job that had him overseeing Marines in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Bedard has spent an average of 109 days a year for the last six years as a mentor for the Norfolk, Va.-based Joint Forces Command, military records show.

The command specializes in coordinating military branches for complicated operations such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bedard has taken part in 65 exercises since he started mentoring in 2004.

During the first nine months of 2009, government records show Bedard mentored 136 days for Joint Forces Command, earning about $216,000. He also was paid an undisclosed sum to mentor in a five-day Marine war game.

The payments are in addition to an annual pension of about $124,000 a year, according to military formulas.

Sentrus hired Bedard to provide “access to people” who could help shape the Marines’ decision to buy the firm’s products, Weinstein said. While working for Sentrus, government records show, Bedard took four mentoring trips to Iraq and one to Afghanistan.

“Buck was involved in making commanders in Iraq and Fallujah in the Army and Marines aware of our technology,” he said. “Basically, Buck has said, ‘I can pick up the phone anytime, anywhere.’ ”

Bedard routinely contacted generals in Iraq by e-mail through his personal account, Weinstein said. One of Bedard’s roles was to tell the company “what the commanders in the field would be looking for in terms of systems and support,” Weinstein said.

Bedard said he didn’t combine his status as a mentor with his private role selling the military on the benefits of Sentrus’ video system.

“I spoke with commanders over there … several times,” Bedard said when asked whether he talked with commanders in Iraq about the system. “It was not in conjunction with anything I did for Joint Forces Command.”

As a retired lieutenant general, Bedard had access to military installations in Iraq not generally available to civilians.

“I never forced anybody to do anything,” he said. “I said, ‘Hey, if the system works for you, great. If it doesn’t, if it needs improvement, what can we improve?’ ”

No deal on system

E-mails between Bedard and Marine officials in Iraq show how Bedard used his influence on behalf of Sentrus.

In late 2006, Bedard sent or received communications about the system at least four times while he was on Joint Forces Command mentoring assignments in Africa and the United States, the e-mails and the command’s travel records obtained by USA TODAY show.

In a Sept. 8, 2006, e-mail to Franz Gayl, a retired major working in Anbar as the Marines’ top science adviser there, Bedard said he “would appreciate any kind of progress report on employment and use of (the video system) and future requirements. … This may be a great system for use by the Army forces over there as well.”

Early on, some Marine officers saw potential for the system. On Dec. 12, 2006, then-Brig. Gen. Robert Neller asked for improvements to the Sentrus video system.

Neller said he doesn’t recall whether he communicated with Bedard. But by June 2007, few improvements had been forthcoming, records show, and Marine officials resisted buying additional units.

More than a year later, Bedard was still advocating for the system. “Retired General ‘Buck’ Bedard is consulting for the vendor,” Marine procurement official John Lacrosse wrote in a March 24, 2008, e-mail to several of his colleagues.

In spring 2008, Maj. Gen. John Kelly, who commanded Marines in Anbar province, said the system was unsuitable.

In a letter to the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, Kelly wrote that only one or two of the Marines’ 14 Sentrus systems functioned reliably.

Kelly was blunt in an e-mail to Lt. Gen. Samuel Helland: “This thing is not anything close to usable in Iraq.”

Bedard continued marketing the Sentrus product, Weinstein said, after Kelly’s report.

In an e-mail dated Jan. 14, 2009, Gordon Mattis, a Marine civilian employee and science adviser, discussed “Gen. Bedard’s involvement” in setting up a recent Sentrus demonstration for a Marine general in Iraq, and added, “It looks like another end run around the acquisition community to create demand from the field.”

Still, the Marines spent $7 million on the video system in 2008, according to a Marine review of the program. In all, they spent $26 million in less than four years.

In the end, Bedard did not overcome the Marines’ conclusions that the system wasn’t workable, Weinstein said. So Sentrus stopped paying him earlier this year.

“He didn’t produce the sales of the system, and I’m a small business, and, you know, I’ve got to stop the hemorrhaging at some point,” Weinstein said.

Edgington, the Joint Forces Command’s chief of staff, said the inspector general’s review of Bedard’s activities found no evidence that Bedard met with Marines in Iraq on behalf of Sentrus while he was “on duty” as a mentor.

Bedard has received good evaluations from those whom he has mentored, Edgington said, adding, “we may well utilize Lt. Gen. Bedard in the future.”

Edgington’s boss, Joint Forces Command chief Gen. James Mattis, said he has no problem with mentors consulting for defense contractors, though he did not want them doing it while on taxpayer funded trips.

“I don’t know all my people’s business affiliations,” Mattis said. However, “I do trust them.”