16 December 2008

Losing Sight of the Mission

From Wired magazine comes word of Eisenhower's military industrial complex morphing into what sounds like a military public relations complex:

A Defense Department project, supposedly designed to support U.S. troops, was used instead to channel millions of dollars to personal friends and allies of its chief. The "America Supports You," or ASY, program was led in a "questionable and unregulated manner," according to a Department of Defense Inspector General report, obtained by Danger Room. At least $9.2 million was "inappropriately transferred" by the project's managers. . . .

"Instead of focusing on its primary mission of showcasing and communicating support to the troops and their families, the ASY program focus [turned to] building or soliciting support from the public," the Inspector General's report notes. In 2006 and 2007, for instance, more than $600,000 was spent ginning up support for America Supports You among schoolchildren. . . .

By mid-2007, allegations began to surface that the Pentagon official in charge of the program, Armed Forces Information Service chief Alison Barber, was improperly redirecting millions of dollars in public funds.

From fiscal years 2004 to 2007, the Inspector General's report notes, Barber funneled $8.8 million in contracts to the public relations firm Susan Davis International--to set up the myriad events, and to promote the ASY "brand." The work was incredibly lucrative; Davis' executives made as much as $312,821 to $662,691 per year. "Paying a public relations contractor annual salaries approaching three-quarters of a million dollars does not appear to be a cost-effective means to support the ASY program and the war fighter," the report observes.

But what made it even harder to stomach was that Davis was a friend of Barber's, and a well-known Republican operative, according to former Defense Department lawyer Diane Beaver.
The institution most hurt by this initiative appears to be Stars and Stripes, which is known for its independence but was used to park funds for public-relations efforts. Stars and Stripes itself noted:
Friday’s report comes on the heels of a separate audit released Thursday which found problems with the internal controls separating Defense Department public affairs activities from American Forces Information Service, Stripes’ now defunct parent organization.
That office was also under Barber's purview.

"Support the Troops" should mean supporting American soldiers--e.g., making the best use of their willingness to serve, not misleading them or giving them illegal orders, equipping them well, ensuring their care if wounded. As this report shows, this Pentagon office wasn't supporting American troops so much as supporting the idea of supporting the troops. And if $8 million went to a friend's public-relations firm instead of body armor or medical care? Well, stuff happens.

The photo above, from the US Department of Defense, shows Barber at a 2005 ceremony with Donald H. Rumsfeld, Rob Steffens of Marvel Comics, Peter Parker, and Steve Rogers.

No comments: