Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Manufactured "Crisis" in Military Education

President Obama and the First Lady staged an expensive photo op Friday at Fort Stewart, Georgia, home of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division.  While Mr. Obama and his wife made passing references to the unit's remarkable combat record (and such pressing concerns as civilian employment prospects for soldiers leaving the service), the real reason behind the Fort Stewart visit was the public signing of an executive order protecting the troops from "predatory" colleges and universities.

No kidding.

Forget about the expense of flying to Georgia on Air Force One.  And the cost of helicoptering from Hunter Army Airfield to the sprawling Army post.  Or the extra security associated with a presidential visit.  As we watched the signing ceremony unfold, a lot of us in higher education were left scratching our heads (DISCLOSURE: your humble correspondent is an executive for a private, non-profit college with a significant presence in the military market).

Mr. Obama told the crowd at Fort Stewart that the executive order is urgently needed to safeguard active duty service members (and veterans) from the for-profit institutions of higher learning that are preying upon them.  The Commander-in-Chief even told horror stories about school recruiters who enrolled Marines assigned to a Wounded Warrior Battalion at Camp Lejeune.  Many of the Marines had suffered traumatic brain injuries in combat and didn't remember what they signed up for after the recruiter left.

But is the problem as serious as the President would have us believe?  Not surprisingly, the stenographers in the  MSM quickly picked up the "crisis" theme.  Here's a sample account from Air Force Times.

“Sometimes you are dealing with folks who are not interested in you,” he said. “They are interested in the money.”
An example, he said, was a school recruiter who gained access to a Marine Corps barracks where he signed up brain-injured Marines to attend college.
“They try to swindle and hoodwink you,” he said “We are going to put an end to it.”
Obama’s order requires schools receiving the GI Bill or other Defense Department-funded veterans educational benefits or tuition assistance to disclose more information to students using military tuition assistance, including a breakdown of the percentage of service members and veterans who complete courses or degrees, according to White House officials.
Course completion information and graduate rates are already available for most schools, but they are not broken down by how service members or veterans might fare, White House officials said.
So, how does President Obama plan to remedy the crisis?  With more regulation, of course; here are a few of the requirements mandated by the executive order.  And just for kicks and grins, I decided to see how my school stands up to these guidelines, as indicated by the responses in bold type:  
- Schools that receive GI Bill or tuition assistance will be required to have academic and financial counselors for service members and veterans and to ease policies for enrollment, re-enrollment and refunds if military-related duties interfere with classes (We've had dedicated financial aid and academic counselors for military students for years; ditto for streamlined policies regarding enrollment, re-enrollment and tuition refunds.  In fact, a student at my university can withdrawal from class for a deployment or extended TDY with just a phone call).
- The government will attempt to trademark the term “GI Bill” so unscrupulous institutions will be prevented from using the name in advertising and on websites (Good luck with that one; might as well trademark "U.S. Constitution," "Declaration of Independence" and "Bill of Rights" while you're at it.  But seriously folks, how are schools supposed to let prospective students know they participate in the program?  I can just see brochures from schools notifying   individuals they take part in "that financial program for individuals who served in the military, but it's not Tuition Assistance;" nod, nod, wink, wink).    .  
- Schools with overly aggressive or unscrupulous recruiting practices will be barred from military bases, blocking access to prospective students (We coordinate all of our recruiting visits through the base education officer, IAW existing DoD policies and regulations).
- A centralized complaint system will be created, with access to investigators, prosecutors and policymakers who enforce the law and regulations (Fair enough, but who is going to enforce the rules?  The VA?  DoD? The individual branches of the armed forces?  The Education Department?  State departments of veterans affairs and/or education?  Sadly, we can see all of these agencies getting involved, creating a labyrinth that will actually discourage some schools from participating in the military market).   .
- Schools that fully comply with federal rules will be listed on a federal website, such as the Veterans Affairs Department’s GI Bill website, while schools that don’t comply will be excluded from listings (Will that be any more beneficial than being listed as a member of the various Servicemember Opportunity Colleges, or such associations as eArmyU, the Air Force AU-ABC Cooperative, and the Navy College Program Distance Learning Partnership?  Such listings have long been used by military students looking for schools that will serve their interests.
And did we mention there is already a sizable bureaucracy that is supposed to assist service members and veterans in their educational pursuits?  For active duty personnel (along with members of the National Guard and Reserve), there is a network of career counselors, educational advisers and base education officers to offer advice, and--supposedly--regulate access by college recruiters. For students who don't want to use these services, all branches of the military have education websites, and some (notably the Navy and National Guard) have "virtual" education centers.  Troops with a question about their benefits, developing a degree plan or selecting a school can contact these centers from around the world.   
To be fair, there are some bad actors in the field of higher education, and some of them represent for-profit colleges and universities.  One school is known for allowing active duty military members, veterans and dependents sign up for classes even if their financial aid hasn't been approved.  In some cases, the student completes three or four semesters before receiving a letter announcing their financial aid was rejected, along with an invoice for thousands of dollars in unpaid tuition and fees.  
Another unsavory institution is notorious for leaving military students to fend for themselves once enrolled.  In one case, a veteran recovering from a brain injury and PTSD signed up for an on-line photography course.  Struggling with class assignments, the former soldier found it impossible to contact the instructor, or get help from someone else at the school.  Finally, in frustration, he put a fist through the wall of his home and called the VA.  
Clearly, such practices should end, along with deceptive advertising and marketing programs.  But it's also worth remembering that the for-profits aren't the only ones who treat military students unfairly.  In fact, Mr. Obama's executive order has at least one glaring weakness: it fairs to address admission and academic credit policies that discriminate against active duty personnel and veterans.  It's also worth mentioning that many of the schools that engage in such practices are major state universities and exclusive private schools.  Many of them don't extend tuition discounts to military students and won't grant credit for armed services training and education. 
Here's a case in point: two years ago, a Navy Petty Officer First Class (E-6) was medically retired from service.  During his 12-year career, the petty officer served as a nuclear reactor technician and an intelligence specialist, completing two of the longest--and most demanding--technical schools in the military.  According to the American Council on Education (ACE) guide on transfer credit, those tech schools (along with other training courses) should have been worth dozens of hours in academic credit, in subjects ranging from mathematics and physics, to management and geography.  
Unfortunately, the former petty officer decided to enroll at the University of Missouri's main campus in Columbia.  After being accepted as a student, he was shocked to learn that Mizzou wouldn't grant any credit  for his military training and education.  At the age of 33 (and with four children at home), the ex-sailor began his career with no college credits, and began taking freshmen-level classes with students almost half his age. 
Such policies don't strike me as "military-friendly," yet they are repeated time and time again among the nation's "better" schools.  Indeed, one reason that so many armed forces students have migrated to the for-profits is that state universities and high-profile private schools ignored them for decades, or created barriers that made it difficult, if not impossible, for service members and vets to attend their classes, let alone earn a degree.  Others refuse to make even basic concessions to military members, such as granting in-state tuition rates, or making more of their programs available on-line.  Did we mention that 75% of all military tuition assistance requests last year went to on-line schools?  
Against that backdrop, it will be interesting to see how Mr. Obama and the federal government enforce this new executive order.  One provision calls for establishment of new rules governing access to military installations by college recruiters, ostensibly to prevent future episodes like the one at Camp Lejeune.  But it's also easy to envision the new guidelines being used to favor schools that are now playing catch-up in the military market--the very same state universities and private schools that shunned armed forces students for so long.  
Finally, it would be useful for the feds to quantify this problem before the executive order is actually implemented.  In our experience, military students--particularly career NCOs and officers--are savvy education consumers.  Most know what to look for in a school, and they shy away from colleges and universities with shady reputations, or those that don't offer what they're looking for.  Most of them will tell you they don't need protection from unscrupulous schools; what they need is more affordable tuition; a streamlined admissions process, greater savings on books and educational materials and more credit for their armed forces training and experience.  Implementing those reforms would go a long way towards solving the "real" crisis in military education and experience.  

Thursday, April 26, 2012

When a "Yankee White" Clearance Meant Something

John McCain is more than a little ticked.  And rightfully so.

True, the Arizona Senator is given to periodic fits and snits (as we've noted on these pages).  But this time, his outrage is spot-on, because the Pentagon appears to be stone-walling on the prostitution scandal that ensnared Secret Service and military personnel, performing advance work for President Obama's recent visit to Colombia.

More from "The Oval" at USA Today:

Sen. John McCain doesn't think Pentagon officials investigating military personnel involved in the prostitute scandal are being very forthcoming.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and McCain, the panel's ranking Republican, met with Pentagon officials today to discuss allegations of misconduct involving military personnel who were in Cartagena, Colombia, ahead of President Obama's visit earlier this month for the Summit of the Americas.

But McCain said the Pentagon officials seemed unprepared and provided "appallingly little new information" on the military investigation of 12 servicemembers who have been ensnared in the prostitution scandal.

"The Department of Defense briefers did not even know the date the president arrived or the name of the senior military commander on the ground in Cartagena," McCain said in a statement.

Much attention has been focused on the Secret Service. The agency moved to quickly oust nine agents, while three others implicated in the episode have been cleared of serious misconduct. But the investigation of the military personnel — who would face punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice — has moved along a slower pace.


The senator from Arizona added: "We need to know the facts. We need to know the impact of this potential misconduct, which occurred less than a day, or perhaps hours, before the president arrived in Cartagena, on the performance of the military Joint Task Force charged with his security. Yet, we are being denied access to the information we need in order to make informed judgments or take needed actions. This is entirely unacceptable."

Appearing on "Fox and Friends" this morning, McCain said the officer who delivered yesterday's brief was a Navy Admiral, so the incomplete presentation wasn't delivered by some low-level staff officer.  It's hard to imagine a flag officer going into a high-level briefing so unprepared, unless he was directed to "take one for the team."  

Indeed, the military's handling of the scandal has been rather puzzling.  While the Secret Service has been forthcoming (according to Congressional sources), the Pentagon has provided information reluctantly, as evidenced by yesterday's presentation for Senators Levin and McCain.  

So, what is the Pentagon trying to hide?  That's the $64,000 question.  Various military p.r. flacks have suggested the information flow has been slow because investigators must respect the rights of the accused.  Fair enough, but isn't the Secret Service operating under similar restrictions regarding its agents.  Yet, the agency has provided more information than its military counterparts. 

We're guessing the scandal runs deeper than the Pentagon wants to admit publicly, and they're trying to conduct damage control before going public.  It's a strategy that's been tried time and time again, but unfortunately, it rarely works.  Usually, the drips of new information outpace the control efforts, and senior officials usually wind up with egg on their faces.  

Still, there is more than a bit of hypocrisy in media coverage of this sorry spectacle.  While the latest disclosure about the Secret Service or the military become's the newest headline, the stenographers in the White House Press Corps blithely accepted claims that all White House staffers have been cleared of wrong-doing, after a one-week inquiry by the Chief Counsel's office.  What's that old line about the fox guarding the chicken coop?  

There's also the matter of who exactly is protecting the POTUS and providing support for presidential visits.  Everyone involved in those tasks must pass a Yankee White background check, aimed at eliminating anyone whose habits or past problems might make them a potential risk.  Yankee White is the most rigorous check in the U.S. government; by some estimates, less than 5% of the population can meet the requirements for that clearance.  

But we're also reminded that standards began to slip in the mid-90s.  As former FBI Agent Gary Aldrich revealed in his book Unlimited Access, clearances were given to Clinton Administration staffers with issues that would ordinarily disqualify them.  If this degradation of standards has become widespread, then it's easy how Secret Service agents and military personnel could fall prey to temptations in Colombia and elsewhere.  

When this scandal broke, we reached out to a retired Air Force Chief Master Sergeant who served in the White House Communications Agency during the Bush 41 presidency.  He expressed amazement that more staffers had not been summarily fired; during his time at the agency, anyone who violated organizational standards were fired and out the gate by the end of the day.  Other WHCA personnel referred to them as "sundowners."  

By our count, only a handful of Secret Service agents have left the organization over this scandal, and one was allowed to retire with full pension benefits.  On the military side, individuals implicated in the Colombian matter have lost their security clearances and will (presumably) receive additional punishment in the future.  When that happens, the real stat to watch is the number of individuals who receive administrative punishment.  

While that type of sanctions may be appropriate in some cases, potential breaches of national security--like the one that occurred in Colombia--deserve more serious punishment.  If only a couple of agents and military members do the "perp walk," start looking for that big lump under the rug.  As the Chief would say, a Yankee White clearance once meant something, and senior officials could rest assured they were being served by the nation's elite.  In the wake of the hooker scandal, that assurance has been gravely damaged.   

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Tip of the Iceberg

If it's any consolation to those current (and former) GSA officials who partied like kings on the taxpayers' dime, they won't be the last to face the wrath of Congress--and the public--over their profligate spending habits.

A former Air Force official, who remains hard-wired into the service's leadership circles, tells us that all units have received a short-notice tasker, in the wake of the GSA mess and the prostitution scandal that has ensnared a number Secret Service agents and military personnel.  According to the official, units have been told to provide a listing of all conferences, symposia, training events, official ceremonies and other functions that required the expenditure of temporary duty (TDY) travel funds over the past seven years.

There was no immediate indication if the tasker came from DoD, or directly from Congress, which has reportedly expanded its probe into lavish trips taken by government employees, ostensibly on "official" business. GSA's now-infamous 2010 regional conference in Las Vegas cost taxpayers more than $800,000, for an event attended by only 300 employees.

Making matters worse, senior agency officials took a number of planning visits to Vegas in the months before the conference, adding to its outrageous expenses.  One senior GSA staffer reportedly took his wife along on one of the trips, and even posed for photos in the bathtub of his luxury suite, images that were later posted on social media.          

Word of the accounting tasker suggests someone is casting a wide net, looking for other examples of fraudulent and abusive travel by government employees.  And there's plenty of gold in them thar TDY hills.  Talk to anyone who's served in the military and they can usually recite stories of questionable trips by senior officials to exotic locales, while supposedly conducting government business.

Consider the case of Air Force Colonel Arthur Huber II, currently Vice Commander of the service's Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.  Between 2006 and 2009,.Huber served as Commander of the Arnold Engineering Development Center at Arnold AFB, TN.  While at Arnold, sources claim, Huber took expensive--and some say questionable--trips to such locations as Belize, China, and India.

While it's unclear if Huber's trips are under scrutiny, there have been questions about the military's travel habits in years past.  Back in 2007, Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma requested a detailed accounting of the Pentagon's conference budget.  Available figures suggested that DoD was spending upwards of $100 million a year on conferences, meetings and related events at that time--and we can only imagine the budget has increased since then.

Mr. Coburn was probably puzzled (as were we) about skyrocketing conference budgets in an era of secure teleconferencing.  The Pentagon spent billions on those capabilities during the last decade, and they justified the expenditure (in part) by promising lower costs for conferences and official travel.

Of course, few government officials or politicians (save Senator Coburn) bothered to hold the military accountable on these issues.  In fact, we're not sure if Mr. Coburn ever received all of the information he requested.  That would't be a surprise, either.  Any senior government official worth his (or her) salt has long since mastered the "art of the stall, creating the illusion of activity while failing to deliver data that might be potentially embarrassing or incriminating.

Something tells us Senator Coburn won't be as accommodating this time.  Nor should he be.  There's plenty of waste in the defense travel budget, and some of those excursions will make the GSA look like pikers.
ADDENDUM:  In fairness, there is a certain irony over Congressional outrage regarding travel by civil service employees.  After all, our elected representatives invented something called a junket, which (typically) represents a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars.  And that's one reason Congress may tread lightly on the issue of military travel.  They certainly wouldn't want the Pentagon to release damning details about the latest "fact-finding" mission to Fiji, or some other global hotspot.

And sadly, these wasteful travel habits are nothing new.  In the late 1980s, a former colleague was tasked to prepare a threat summary briefing for the wife of General Robert D. Russ, Commander of Tactical Air Command (now Air Combat Command).  When the assignment was made, the intel officer was told the presentation was in support of some type of "official" visit to the Philippines.  The intel analyst worked on the briefing for more than a week, then delivered it to a very disinterested general's wife.

My colleague later learned that the "visit" was little more than a shopping trip, with the four-star's wife travelling on USAF aircraft and staying in VIP quarters at Clark AB.  Of course, wasting money was old habit for this particular general.  General Russ was a moving force behind the rehabilitation of the base golf course at Langley AFB, VA (where his headquarters was located) in the late 1980s.  The effort involved a combat engineering team and more than $900,000 in taxpayer dollars.            

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Trouble with Airborne ISR

A USAF RC-135U Combat Sent strategic SIGINT aircraft.  The RC-135 fleet represents the lone bright spot as budgets for other ISR and battle management aircraft are cut (USAF photo)

It's no secret that America's military aircraft fleet is aging rapidly--and in many cases, no replacement platforms are in sight.  Lieutenant General David Deptula, who retired last year as the Air Force's Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, often illustrated this point with a simple story.  Deptula's son (also an Air Force fighter jock) often flew the same F-15 his father piloted while assigned to Kadena AB, Japan.  The "gap" between father and son in the cockpit was more than 20 years, illustrating the advancing age of our tactical aircraft.

And, the problem is even worse among certain ISR and battle management platforms.  As David Fulgham of Aviation Week observes, the Air Force's fleet of E-3 AWACS and E-8 Joint Stars are getting long in the tooth, and there's no money to fix them or replace them.  As Mr. Fulghum writes, worries about ISR aircraft are a fairly recent development; as recently as a year ago, there seemed to be enough money for AWACS and Joint Starts to solider on, well into the future:

"Reversing a trend of rising budgetary support that was well established even a year ago, the field of airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) is now suffering the hammer blows of aging aircraft, overloaded datalinks, emerging cyber vulnerabilities and shrinking defense budgets.

“ISR is really becoming a crisis,” says a senior Air Force official with daily insight into those programs. “There is no new cash. There’s not even the money to continue to fly legacy systems.”

ISR, electronic warfare and cyber operations — which are inextricably linked both technically and operationally — were considered the big favorites in defense budget negotiations, but the last round of cuts to the fiscal 2013 budget request and the potential for more reductions by year’s end are threatening even the most successful programs."

That quote neatly describes how quickly the budget axe has fallen on scores of Pentagon programs--even those considered essential for tactical and strategic operations.  It also indicates that cuts have been made with little regard for the near and long-term consequences.  Let another administration (and their service chiefs) worry about that one.

The only ray of sunshine in this gloomy picture is the nation's RC-135 fleet.  According to Aviation Week, our Rivet Joint and Combat Sent aircraft are "doing just fine," an apparent reference to the supplementary funding sources that help keep them in the air.  As our primary airborne SIGINT platforms, the RC-135 fleet (based at Offut AFB, Nebraska) is funded in part by the National Security Agency.  A running joke in the Air Force asks, "What's the only wing flying on 30 September (end of the fiscal year)?  The 55th at Offut.  With funding streams from Fort Meade, there's always money available to keep RJ and Sent in the air.

But their effectiveness in tactical operations will be diminished if AWACS and J-Stars aren't available.  While Rivet Joint provides vital intelligence on its own, it becomes even more valuable when its SIGINT "haul" is fused with air tracks from AWACS, or meshed with ground tracking provided by J-Stars.  Without those inputs, the overall battle picture will be incomplete, creating problems for both intelligence analysts and commanders.

The supposed solution for this problem is mounting sensors on smaller, unmanned aircraft that will eventually replace AWACS and J-Stars.  But as one expert told David Fulghum, this approach is far from optimum.  UAVs can't carry the sensors needed for wide area surveillance, and in today's budgetary environment, will there be enough money to build the "swarm" of sensor platforms needed to replace the E-3s and E-8s?  Don't bet on it.            


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Before Dick Clark...

The entertainment world is mourning the loss of Dick Clark, the consummate TV performer who kept Americans entertained for well over half a century. And, as Mr. Clark freely admitted, he forged an iconic career without being able to sing, dance, tell jokes, or act (although he did appear in a few films in the early 1960s, and subsituted for the male half of Paul and Paula when he walked out in the middle of a rock-and-roll caravan promoted by the "American Bandstand" host).

What Mr. Clark excelled at was hosting, the fine art of introducing other performers, game show contestants or even practical jokes, and enticing the audience to keep watching. As we've noted in other columns, fronting a TV game, beauty contest, variety show or a music program isn't as easy as it sounds. Ideally, the host should never over-shadow the other performers, while keeping the whole thing moving along and (when necessary) enliven the proceedings when it gets a bit dull.

It's a dying art, as anyone who's watched TV over the past 25 years can attest. Among the current crop, only Wheel of Fortune's Pat Sajak, Survivor's Jeff Probst, Tom Bergeron of Dancing With the Stars and Ryan Seacrest of American Idol seem to have mastered the requisite skills. The rest seem to disappear into the background, or spend all their time trying to one-up the other acts.

And Dick Clark excelled in almost every format he attempted. He presided over Bandstand for decades; he gave Aud Lang Syne a hipper twist with his New Year's Rockin' Eve specials that began in the 1970s; he was the original host of The $10,000 Pyramid, and co-hosted TV's Bloopers and Practical Jokes (with Ed McMahon) for years on NBC. At one point in the early 1990s, Clark was hosting shows simultaneously on CBS, ABC and NBC, making him one of the few performers in broadcasting history to hit the network trifecta.

But Clark was more than just a host. He became one of the most successful producers in Hollywood, packing countless awards shows and other programs under the banner of Dick Clark Productions. In fact, Pyramid was one of the few long-term gigs where Clark wasn't working for himself. At the time of his death, Mr. Clark's personal fortune was somewhere north of $200 million dollars, a testament to his shrewd business skills, and successful track record in knowing what TV executives--and the American public--wanted to see.

Of course, it was an empire built on "Bandstand." When Clark assumed hosting duties in 1956, it was a local show in Philadelphia. Most viewers assumed that Dick Clark was the original host, but that honor belongs to another local broadcaster, Bob Horn. By the time Dick Clark joined the announcing staff of WFIL radio, Horn was a well-established Philadelphia media personality, appearing on the station's radio and TV outlets. In fact, the 24-year-old Clark shared afternoon announcing duties on WFIL radio, allowing his colleague to appear on TV, as the host of Bob Horn's Bandstand. Clark's introduction to the show was as an occasional guest-host.

But all that changed in 1956. Horn had been squabbling with his bosses at WFIL, and they fired him after he was arrested for drunk driving and accused of statutory rape. Horn was acquitted on the rape charge and resolved the DUI case with local prosecutors. His career in ruins, Horn moved to Houston, where he was offered a job at a radio station owned by Top 40 pioneer Gordon McLendon. Using the on-air moniker of Bob Adams, the former Bandstand host rebuilt his career, eventually launching a successful advertising agency in Houston. Horn died of a heart attack while mowing his lawn in 1965, just one year after Dick Clark moved Bandstand to Los Angeles.

To his credit, Clark always acknowledged Bob Horn's contributions, including the famous decision to televise teenagers dancing while the latest hits played. It was hardly an original idea --Horn borrowed the concept from another Philly TV show of that era--but it gave Bandstand the boost it needed. By the time Clark became the host, Bandstand was a broadcast phenomenon, capturing up to 60% of the local TV audience on weekday afternoons. In 1957, Clark took the show national on ABC and became a star, while memories of the Bob Horn version quickly faded.

Obviously, Dick Clark benefited from being in the right place at the right time. But that doesn't take away from his tremendous skills as a TV producer and program developer. One of the cardinal rules of television is that you don't mess with a winning formula. Clark recognized that when he took over Bandstand, and kept refining the hit program, keeping it on the air for more than 40 years. It was an early indication that Mr. Clark would be remembered for much more than his appearances before the camera.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Help is on the Way?

If you're a military spouse (and looking for work), don't worry--help is on the way, according to First Lady Michelle Obama.

Mrs. Obama, who has become an advocate for military families during her time in the White House, recently announced a partnership with eleven firms that will create "up to 15,000 jobs" in the coming years. Details from UPI:

When the next set of orders comes in for these families, and they have to move across the country, they'll be able to move these jobs with them," Obama said in a conference call with reporters.

The jobs at companies around the United States aim to help military spouses find work near bases where their partners are stationed. Most of the jobs, which are in telecommuting or customer support, will offer flexible hours so parents can work from home and be available for personal commitments.

Twenty-six percent of military spouses are unemployed, U.S. Department of Defense statistics indicate. Moving from state to state is a challenge for professionals who have to register licenses in different states or who cannot find work in their field when they relocate.

With her announcement, Obama stressed that flexibility and portability are the future of jobs for families that are juggling so much. Veteran and military family job seekers are often not willing or able to move for a job, a representative of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said.

That's why other government groups are working to connect veterans with employers near where they live.

Readers will note that the companies which will create the jobs were not named, and there is no timeline for when the positions will be added. Additionally, the vague description offered in the UPI account suggests that most of the jobs will be call center or customer service positions, which won't catapult military spouses into the upper 1% of wage earners. But for some military families, these jobs could help ease their financial strain.

Still, we're wondering if Mrs. Obama and her partner Jill Biden (wife of the Vice President) aren't aiming a bit low. As veterans of the career and education expo circuit, we routinely speak with scores of military members and their spouses. The education level of military families is well above the national average, and it's quite easy to find spouses with graduate degrees. Individuals with that sort of background are qualified for more than just a call center-at-home position.

Here's an idea: perhaps the First Lady and Dr. Biden can talk the President's best friend in the corporate world (General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt) and see what his company can bring to the table. After all, GE doesn't pay any corporate income taxes, so they've got plenty of cash to expand their operations and hire additional staff--at least in theory.

Which leads us to another question: if the economic recovery is perking along (as the White House would have us believe), why were Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Biden unable to "create" more than 15,000 entry-level jobs over an unspecified timeline? Corporations can't be forced to hire anyone (not yet, anyway) and with continuing economic uncertainty, firms are reluctant to add new workers. And the chief reason for the economic apprehension can be found in the Oval Office.

And, at the risk of tossing another fly in the ointment, here's another grim reminder that somehow didn't make the UPI dispatch. While Michelle Obama and Jill Biden are trying to create more jobs for military spouses, the Commander-in-Chief (along with Defense Secretary Panetta) are sending more troops to the unemployment line. As many as 100,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines will be forced out of service over the next three to four years, due to Pentagon budget cutbacks. It doesn't take an economist to calculate the impact of those force cutbacks on military families.

Put another way, the First Lady's initiative will help a military spouse land a job as a home call center or customer service rep that pays $8-15 an hour, with few benefits and little stability. Meanwhile, their husband or wife will be forced from active duty as an E-5 or E-6, with no pension and only short-term health care benefits. These jobs are hardly a substitute for the military positions being eliminated, and with the ripple effect in the defense industry, fewer veterans will find employment that utilizes the skills and experience they gained in uniform.

Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Biden deserve some credit for helping military families at a time when spouses and veterans face long odds in finding a job. But until they address the larger factors influencing unemployment in the military community, those 15,000 "jobs" are little more than a drop in the bucket.
ADDENDUM: And while we're handing out darts, here's one for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is sponsoring "Hire our Heroes" job fairs around the country. For whatever reason, the Chamber has decided to exclude educational institutions from these events.

From our perspective, that is a serious mistake. Go to any military job fair, and you'll see vets rejected by potential employers due to their lack of a college degree. Learning that they're only a sheepskin away from a $100,000 job, most military members or veterans start scrambling to find education options. The Chamber could certainly establish criteria for schools that would be allowed to participate, and limit their numbers at individual events. Someone needs to tell the Chamber of Commerce that many of the heroes attending their job fairs need educational resources, too (in the interest of full disclosure, your humble correspondent is an executive for a private, non-profit university).

Friday, April 13, 2012

Tip of the (Relocation Scandal) Iceberg

In the wake of its infamous $850,000 Vegas bash-cum-convention, the General Services Administration is in trouble again, this time for excessive re-location expenses for a former employee.

According to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee (chaired by California Republican Darrell Issa), the embattled agency spent over $300,000 moving a former staffer from Denver to Hawaii. Another GSA employee provided details of the transfer, in an interview with an investigator from the agency's Inspector General division. A transcript of the conversation was provided to CNN:

The interview was largely about spending at the convention, but the unnamed GSA event planner volunteered that another part of his or her job was to relocate other employees.

In the one particular relocation from Denver to Hawaii costing the GSA $330,000, the event planner said the employee "stayed on for just the one year and then quit. Left the GSA," despite signing an agreement to stay on after relocation, "Wow that is wasting taxpayer money," the investigator said.

It "blew me away when I saw how much it costs to relocate somebody. It's crazy. It's astronomical. Hundreds of thousands of dollars," for one person, said the GSA event planner.

According to this transcript, relocation allowances generally included: a house hunting trip, temporary quarters for one to 30 days (which could be extended to 90 days), a vehicle shipped, $25 per diem, as well as groceries and laundry.

"I mean it's outrageous," said the GSA event planner.

Beyond that, the event planner said the government picked up the tab for closing costs on a home purchase, and if the person relocating can't sell their house, "we have a guarantee that we'll buy it" and "sell it off to somebody else."

"In the past two years how much do you think you've seen spent," asked the Inspector General investigator.

"Oh millions," replied the GSA event planner.

"How many employees are we talking about," the investigator later asked.

"I'd say, right now, probably about 15 files on my desk," said the GSA event planner.

While that revelation is enough to make your blood boil, it is hardly unusual. The "benefits" outlined by the event planner are standard for federal employees who accept a position in a new locale, and are relocated on the taxpayers' dime. For everyone who's loaded their possessions in a moving truck and set off across the country for a new job--and paid for the trip out of their own pocket--it must be reassuring to know that federal bureaucrats get a publicly-funded house-hunting trip, temporary lodging, per diem and all the other goodies that make for a smooth move. And for what it's worth, members of the U.S. military enjoy similar benefits during permanent change-of-station (PCS) moves.

So, it's not surprising that moving a single GSA worker from Denver to Honolulu cost $300,000, when you factor in those perks, plus the expense of buying their old home in Colorado, and paying closing costs on a new place in Hawaii. Of course, that prompts some rather obvious questions, namely, couldn't they find someone qualified in the local office, or hire someone with the right credentials off the street? Truth be told, it sounds like the Denver-to-Hawaii move was a sweetheart deal for someone. It would be nice to know where those other GSA employees are headed--and how much their moves will cost the taxpayer.

It's also sad to report that other government agencies have encountered serious problems managing their PCS accounts. In a story that barely registered a blip--even among the military press--five Air Force generals (now retired) were sanctioned for a $96 million overrun in the PCS account that occurred back in 2005. From an Air Force Times article published in December, 2010:

"...The latest sanctions, disclosed Dec. 2, went to five generals who overspent by $87 million the budget that pays for airmen and their families to move to new assignments back in 2005. The highest-ranking officers cited were Gen. Roger Brady, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe, who leaves office Dec. 13, and Gen. Stephen Lorenz, who left as head of Air Education and Training Command on Nov. 17. While the changes of command were not a result of the admonishments, the two were kept from leaving their posts until the investigations were concluded, said an Air Force official familiar with the investigation.

Also singled out were Gregory W. Den Herder, then the executive director of Air Force Personnel Center and retired since 2006, and three individuals whose names the Air Force declined to release citing Privacy Act limits that restrict the disclosure of nonjudicial punish­ments involving less senior officials.

In a written statement, Air Force Secretary Mike Donley explained his decision to sanction the officers.“The Defense Department comptroller’s investigation determined that the individuals involved did not violate [rules] willfully or knowingly, however, the individuals failed to meet our standards, and all have been the subject of administrative actions,” Donley told Air Force Times."

Interestingly enough, General Lorenz was regarded as something of a managerial guru during his days in uniform, even writing a series of articles called "Lorenz on Leadership" that were widely disseminated within the service, and have continued into his retirement. To this day, neither General Lorenz (nor the Air Force) have explained how the PCS account was so badly mismanaged, and exactly what happened to that $96 million. Congressman Issa might ask his friends on the Armed Services Committee to look into that little accounting error.

As for General Lorenz, sounds like he has all the right qualifications to be the next GSA Administrator.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Harley Ride to the Unemployment Line

This time of year is college football's equivalent of the "hot stove" league. The season is three months into the record books, and National Signing Day is but a memory, and the coaching carousel has stopped spinning, at least until a certain head coach decided to go for a motorcycle ride on a Sunday morning.

We refer, of course, to Bobby Petrino, the now-former coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks. Petrino, who led the Hawgs to the best season in decades last year, is now out of a job, after a Harley crash involving his 25-year-old mistress, a pack of lies, and finally, his termination in Fayetteville.

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Arkansas fired coach Bobby Petrino on Tuesday, saying he engaged in reckless behavior that "He made the decision to mislead the public, (and it) adversely affected the university and the football program," athletic director Jeff Long said at an evening news conference, choking up at one point as he discussed telling players the news. There was a "pattern of misleading and manipulative behavior to deceive me."

It was a stunning fall for Petrino, who had built Arkansas into a Southeastern Conference and national power over four seasons, including a 21-5 record the past two years. But Long made it clear that the success on the field was overshadowed by a laundry list of deceptive acts.

The 51-year-old Petrino was injured in an April 1 motorcycle accident. He was put on paid leave last week after admitting he lied about the presence of the 25-year-old employee, Jessica Dorrell, who had been riding with him.

Long said his investigation, which took less than a week, found that Petrino had even given Dorrell $20,000 at one point, though he wouldn't disclose what it was for. He also said Petrino was fired "with cause" -- meaning he will not receive a multimillion-dollar buyout -- and there were no discussions about ways to keep Petrino at Arkansas included hiring his mistress and then intentionally misleading his bosses about everything from their relationship to her presence at the motorcycle accident that ultimately cost him his job.

It was, in some respects, a stunning decision. With today's "win-at-all-costs" mentality in college football, administrators often look for ways to retain a winning coach, even when it becomes apparent they must go. It took quite a bit of damning evidence to convice Ohio State that Jim Tressel had to go (amid the memorabilia scandal), and many at Penn State still wanted to retain Joe Paterno, even after it was revealed that the legendary coach did almost nothing to stop the serial molestation and rape of young boys by his former assistant, Jerry Sandusky.

Some would say Petrino's sins paled by comparison. In fact, some of his supporters offered a variation of the "Clinton Defense," saying what the coach did in his private life was no one's business.

But that excuse only goes so far. For starters, a portion of Petrino's salary comes from the taxpayers of Arkansas, making him the state's highest-paid employee. Additionally, the coaches' contract with the university clearly contained a "morals clause," allowing him to be fired for violating standards of personal conduct. We're guessing that having an extra-marital affair--and putting the mistress on the football staff--was more than enough for a termination under under the morals clause.

Yet, Petrino added insult to career injury by lying about the whole sordid episode. ESPN recounts the details:

"What the married father of four failed to mention, both at a news conference and to Long, was the presence of a Dorrell, a former Arkansas volleyball player and Razorback Foundation fundraiser who Petrino had hired to a football-department position just days before the accident.
That revelation was made public when the state police released the accident report. Petrino informed Long of Dorrell's presence 20 minutes before the police released the report to the public, also admitting to what he called a previous inappropriate relationship with Dorrell. Long placed Petrino on paid leave later that night, saying he was disappointed in Petrino and promising to review the coach's conduct. He said his review found that the relationship between the two had lasted a "significant" amount of time.

As the review continued, the state police released the audio of the 911 call reporting Petrino's accident. It revealed Petrino didn't want to call police following the crash, and a subsequent police report showed he asked police if he was required to give the name of the passenger during the accident.

Petrino was forthcoming about Dorrell's name and presence with police, but only after misleading both Long and the public during his news conference. That led to the school releasing a statement from Petrino's family the day after the accident that said "no other individuals" were involved.

Sadly, Petrino's behavior was utterly predictable. As sports columnist Pat Forde observed a few days ago, the former Razorback coach has made a career of lying:

In November 2003, during Petrino’s first season as a coach at Louisville, he engaged in a brazen double-cross withAuburn. Petrino met across the Ohio River from Louisville, in southern Indiana, with a number of Auburn officials to discuss the Tigers’ coaching job. Problem was, neither the Tigers nor the Cardinals had finished their seasons. This was two days before Auburn would beat Alabama in the Iron Bowl.

Petrino undercut his former boss, Tommy Tuberville, under whom he was offensive coordinator at Auburn. He also undercut his boss at the time, Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich, who gave him his first head-coaching job.

Petrino lied about having any contact with Auburn officials until two reporters for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal confronted him with documentation of the private plane that brought the university president and athletic director to Sellersburg, Ind. I was one of the two reporters. Petrino still resisted telling the truth until Auburn issued a statement owning up to the whole affair.

The next season, Petrino showed how chastened he was by that PR disaster by quietly interviewing at the same Sellersburg airport with Notre Dame officials. He also had discussions with Florida and Mississippi about their jobs.

Then, on Dec. 7, 2004, he pledged his loyalty to Louisville through a flowery statement. Two weeks later, he signed a contract extension to stay with the Cardinals. Five days after that, he surreptitiously interviewed withLSU. And another week after that, when it was apparent LSU was going to hire Les Miles, Petrino publicly pulled out of consideration for the job.

In 2005, a guy who told everyone he had no interest in coaching the pros interviewed with the Oakland Raiders. He ultimately turned down the job and expelled a bunch of hot air about his commitment to Louisville."

Eventually, Petrino took a job in the pros, as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons. But he quit after only 13 games, and took the job at Arkansas. Falcons' owner Arthur Blank, the co-founder of Home Depot, reportedly describes Petrino to be a man of "no integrity."

So, is it any wonder that when Petrino's little web of infidelity and deceit ran into the ditch, quite literally, he resorted to a familiar pattern?

Kudos to Mr. Long (and the rest of the university administration) for making the right call. Character and integrity ought to count for something in college athletics, particularly from individuals who are charged with leading major sports programs and mentoring the young men and women who play for them.

The Hawgs may lose a few more games this fall, but the football program is better off without Petrino. And don't feel too sorry for Bobby P. After Mrs. Petrino is finished with the ex-coach, he'll wind up on the sidelines again, working for someone who's a little less picky about his personal conduct, and his penchant for tellling lies.
ADDENDUM: KATV in Little Rock reported that one of Petrino's sons tweeted "sooo pissed" around the time his father was fired. At whom, we wonder? At U of A administrators, or his father? If it was the former, we'd say the apple doesn't fall very far from the tree. If it was the latter, he has every right to be.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Remembering Ned King

Monday marks the 70th anniversary of the surrender of U.S. and Filipino forces on Bataan, the largest capitulation in American military history. From our post on the subject in 2008:

Sixty-six years ago this week, Major General Edward King, U.S. Army, set off on a bitter mission. Wearing the best uniform he could muster, King and a small entourage headed north along the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines, searching for Lieutenant General Masaharu Homma, commander of the Japanese 14th Army.

For more than three months, Homma's forces had been advancing slowly south, pushing U.S. and Filipino forces into an ever-shrinking section of the rugged peninsula. Now, the battle was drawing to a close. With food and medical supplies exhausted--and many of his soldiers sick or injured--King carried the white flag of surrender. Further resistance would be futile, he decided, and likely result in the wholesale slaughter of the troops that remained.

After being strafed by Japanese fighters as they drove north, King and his party finally reached Japanese lines. On the morning of 9 April 1942, the American general discussed terms of surrender to Homma's subordinate, Maj. Gen. Kameichiro Nagano. Several hours of negotiations ensued; at their conclusion, King agreed to the Japanese terms, and ordered his surviving soldiers--75,000 Filipinos and Americans--to lay down their arms.

General King, a Georgia lawyer-turned-artillery officer and the son of Confederate veterans, fully understood the irony and humiliation of his actions. Not only did the Bataan surrender represent the largest capitulation in U.S. military history; it came on the 77th anniversary of Robert E. Lee's surrender to U. S. Grant at Appomattox.

Eight decades after King's surrender, the decision remains controversial--at least from the perspective of his superiors. Both General Douglas MacArthur (who was evacuated from the Philippines days earlier) and President Roosevelt had issued "no surrender" orders. King, realizing that further resistance was futile--and would result in even more American casualties --ignored their directives and surrendered, hoping to save as many of his men as possible.

Of course, General King had no way of knowing the horrors they would face in captivity, including the Bataan Death March (which claimed the lives of at least 1,000 Americans and 5,000 Filipinos); brutal conditions in Japanese POW camps (where thousands more perished) and for a unlucky few, transport to the enemy homeland on "hell ships" with little food, water or ventilation. Some of the ships were torpedoed by U.S. submarines, which had no way of knowing that their fellow Americans were being held below decks.

When he emerged from a Japanese POW camp, King expected to be court-martialed for failing to obey a direct order. Instead, he was treated as a hero--and deservedly so. As we noted four years ago, the surrender on Bataan was a product of false expectations and poor leadership. Any hope of reinforcing the Philippines ended with the debacle of Pearl Harbor, though MacArthur kept telling his troops that help was on the way.

His defensive strategy was equally flawed; initial attempts to stop the Japanese invasion on the landing beaches were repulsed by the enemy, and as Allied troops fell back in disarray, they were almost cut off before reaching defensive positions on Bataan, where they continued to resist, despite dwindling stocks of fuel, ammunition and food, and diseases that ran rampant through the ranks.

Make no mistake: Douglas MacArthur remains one of the greatest generals in our nation's history. Later in the war, his brilliant use of maneuver warfare resulted in dramatic advances towards Tokyo, without the the heavy casualties that accompanied some of our "island-hopping" campaigns in the Central Pacific. But the months after Japan invaded the Philippines were hardy his finest hour. MacArthur played a poor hand badly, leaving General King to make the only decision he could on that morning in April, seventy years ago.


As we noted four years ago, MacArthur's legendary ego also influenced events on Bataan, before and after the surrender. Not only did "Dugout Doug" issue his no-surrender directive, he also opposed efforts to award the Medal of Honor to Lieutenant General Jonathan Wainwright, who succeeded him as Allied commander in the Philippines. Wainwright eventually received the honor, but only after his liberation from a Japanese prison camp.

By comparison, Genreal King never received any decoration or recognition for his gallantry, though he was widely admired and revered by his troops. MacArthur refused to speak with him after the war, and even Wainwright questioned his judgment. But in recent years, military historians have begun to reassess King's record on Bataan, concluding that he did as much as he could to slow the Japanese advance, and by surrendering his command, he preserved the lives of thousands of allied soldiers. Eight decades later, many believe that Ned King deserves the Medal of Honor as well. That includes many of the survivors of the Bataan campaign, who understand the courage of King's decision.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Hornet Down

Wreckage of a Navy F/A-18 burns, after the jet crashed into a Virginia Beach apartment complex today. (AP photo via Yahoo News)

It was another reminder of the inherent dangers associated with military aviation: a Navy F/A-18 Hornet crashed into an apartment complex in Virginia Beach this afternoon, just moments after taking off from NAS Oceana. Both pilots ejected safely from the stricken aircraft; public safety officials said at least five people were hurt on the ground, but none apparently suffered serious injuries.

As of this writing, there have been no confirmed fatalities, but the mayor of Virginia Beach suggested that some bodies might be found in the wreckage of two apartment buildings that were destroyed as the jet plowed into them. The F/A-18, which apparently suffered a major mechanical malfunction, slammed into Mayfair Mews Apartment Complex off Birdneck Road, near Interstate I-264.

An eyewitness account from the Virginian-Pilot:

Amy Miller works at a cleaners on Birdneck Road and said she was outside when she saw a plane coming down with fire on its wing. The plane looked like it was heading east and came from behind the shopping center and over it

"I saw two parachutes eject. I saw them open up and then head toward the ground to the right of the jet."

About two seconds later it crashed. It appeared to have its landing gear down, she said.

She lives in Birdneck Village Apartments and ran up the street towards her apartment where her family was to make sure it hadn't been hit.

Her manager ran inside and called 911. They have customers who live in Mayfair Mews Apartments - which is for adults 55 and older - and have been trying to call them but they haven't answered the phone.

She saw where the jet crashed: "It looked like it had either hit the building or slid into it.

Part of the building had crumpled up."

Today's crash will almost certainly re-ignite the safety debate associated with military jets operating over the urban and suburban neighborhoods of Virginia Beach. When NAS Oceana was built during World War II, it was surrounded by farmlands and swamps. Over the decades that followed, Virginia Beach grew from a sleepy resort town into Virginia's largest city, and developers built neighborhoods and shopping areas that eventually surrounded the naval airfield.

Concerns about safety led the BRAC commission (in 2005) to recommend that changes for Oceana--as a condition for remaining open. The panel mandated that the city of Virginia Beach buy (and condemn) more than 3,000 residences--and an unknown number of businesses--in "crash zones" around the base. Progress on that front has been slow, but there are few options other than Oceana. Proposals to re-activate Cecil Field, Florida (outside Jacksonville) as an F/A-18 base hit a snag seven years ago, when the city removed itself from the process.

Fact is, it would be extraordinarily expensive to transfer all--or even some--of Oceana's functions to another base. In today's defense budget environment, there is simply no money for that sort of move. Additionally, the Navy has been unable to push through plans for an Outlying Landing Field (OLF) in rural Virginia or North Carolina, which could absorb some of the training now conducted at Oceana. Opposition to that proposal led the Navy to shelve plans for the OLF, and it won't be reconsidered until 2014, at the earliest. That means the operations tempo (and the noise) at Oceana will continue, unabated, for the foreseeable future.

To be fair, the Navy has maintained an enviable safety record at Oceana. During eight decades of flight ops, there have been only a handful of crashes, resulting in few fatalities and very limited property damage. As more than one resident observed, you're far more likely to meet your maker in a crash on I-264, as opposed to an F/A-18 slamming into your home or apartment building.

But there are more pressing concerns about the age of Navy aircraft and how well they are maintained. A recent article in Aviation Week detailed a decade of cuts to the Navy budget for aircraft procurement and maintenance. According to reporter Michael Fabey, Pentagon leaders have already shaved $3 billion from the service's funding for air operations and maintenance in FY'2013. Navy officials admit there are "certain risks" associated with reduced maintenance funding for an aging tactical aircraft fleet.

At this point, it's too early to tell if budget cuts played any role in today's crash. But the current funding formula is hardly a recipe for flight safety. Making matters worse, the heightened ops tempo of the past decade means F/A-18s are on pace to reach their service life limits ahead of schedule. Last fall, Defense Industry Daily reported that some Marine Corps F/A-18s are approaching 8,500 flight hours on the airframe. Even with Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) upgrades, the Hornets can fly only 10,000 hours before retirement.

In the same article, the Navy's F/A-18 program manager reported that flight time for his aircraft is running about 30% above projections each year. A number of Navy Hornets have also passed the 8,000 hour mark, though their accident rate remains low. Many of the F/A-18s are slated for replacement by the Navy version of the F-35 stealth fighter, but that program has been plagued by delays and cost overruns. As a result, more aging Hornets will remain with the fleet much longer than planned, and Navy mechanics will have less money to keep them flying.