By Ray Locker
The spirit of Catch-22 lives on at the Pentagon’s Office of the Inspector General.
In Joseph Heller’s classic World War II novel, aviators who wanted to avoid flying deadly bombing missions over Europe would seek to be disqualified for mental health reasons. But the missions were so dangerous that those who wanted to stop flying them couldn’t be considered crazy and therefore were deemed sane enough to keep flying.
At the inspector general’s office, investigative reports into the misdeeds of some of the military’s generals, admirals and top civilian employees are available to the public only if you ask for them. But how do you know which reports to ask for? They won’t tell you. You’ll have to figure that out for yourself.
But that’s not all, said Bridget Serchak, chief of public affairs for the inspector general.
“At the Office of Inspector General, we must balance the need to inform the public with respecting the privacy of individuals, maintaining the confidentiality of whistle-blowers and sources to the extent possible, and safeguarding sensitive information,” she said. “As a result, we do not ‘proactively’ or automatically release Administrative Investigations reports to the public.”
“Consistent with (Justice Department) guidelines, we post redacted versions of substantiated senior official investigation reports on our public website after receiving three FOIA requests, and after weighing the public interest versus the privacy interest of the individuals (senior officials) involved pursuant to a FOIA process,” Serchak said.
So not only does a person need to be skilled or lucky enough to know the name of an official who has been investigated and to ask for that report, two other people must also ask for the same report. Even then, the report will be edited and released publicly if unnamed people at the inspector general’s office deem the report fit for public consumption.
Unlike reports that the IG’s office says exonerate an official of suspected wrongdoing, these are investigations that found problems serious enough to merit the official’s removal from office or reprimand. They range from poor management to misuse of government money to using office staff as servants to run personal errands. Yet the investigative reports on these officials remain hidden from public view for months after those in question have left their jobs or retired. For example:
• Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, head of the Army’s Missile Defense Agency. A May 2012 report found that O’Reilly “engaged in a leadership style that was inconsistent with standards expected of senior Army leaders.” That style featured private and public screaming jags at subordinates in staff meetings and teleconferences. Although the report was completed in May 2012, O’Reilly was allowed to retire in January as a three-star general. See the report here.
• Lt. Gen. David Huntoon, superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The inspector general found in May 2012 that had improperly used his aides to staff private charity events, feed a friend’s cats and provide driver’s lessons. He agreed to reimburse the employees more than $1,800. The report remained secret until the Washington Post obtained it through a FOIA request in June. See that report here.
• Maj. Gen. Joseph Fil Jr., commander of the U.S. Eighth Army in Korea. A former three-star general, Fil was busted down a rank and forced to retire after improperly receiving gifts from a private Korean citizen while leading U.S. troops in that country, the inspector general found. That report was completed last year and remained secret for more than a year until the Post obtained it through a FOIA request. See the report here.
• Gen. William “Kip” Ward, head of the U.S. Africa Command. A June 2012 investigation report found that Ward and his wife improperly used military travel and his staff, often forcing them to pick up their laundry and do their shopping. Ward was busted down to a three-star general and forced to retire in November, five months after the report was completed.
Other reports can be found here. These were publicly released after three people knew enough to ask for them.
Despite the personal sacrifices all of these officers have endured during their long years of military service, they work for the taxpayers, not the other way around. When they stray, as more of them seem to have done recently, the public deserves to know, particularly if the investigations and the people who run are paid by taxpayer money.