Financial Disclosure for Mentors

Gannett juggernaut USA Today reported the Pentagon has weakened financial disclosure rules for highly paid retired generals and admirals who advise the military.

Gasp! What will we do now?

USA Today is interested in decisions affecting these senior mentors because it first shed light on what appeared to be a shady world of overpaid retired flag officers who also shilled for defense contract giants, using their influence for personal gain.

In April, amidst the controversy created by the nation’s top circulation paper, Defense Secretary (and Occasional Superhero) Robert M. Gates moved to restrict mentor pay and increase oversight.

But in a surprise move, the Defense Department appears to be loosening the oversight screws. It has been decided the mentors will no longer have to publicly disclose their finances and business dealings. But these disclosures will still have to be made privately, and defense officials say any conflicts should be discovered.

Following USA Today’s provocative reports about a program in which senior retired officers lend their expertise in military exercises, the program took on the rep of Fat Cat feeding orgy. Retired flag officers already making six figures were allegedly bilking the government for more.

But those familiar with the program with whom we spoke said these guys are needed and worth the money. We watched mentors at one embarrassingly poor war game put on the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab’s weak link, its own wargaming division. As I cringed, one retired Marine general remained patient, working to get the doe eyed and bleating lieutenant colonel participants to solutions in a game that should never have been debuted.

Are some stars not worth the cash they command? Could mentors be better employed? Probably, but the latter is not the fault of the mentors. With mid- and senior leadership frightened by original thought, it is difficult to see how a marginally functioning military can sponsor these training evolutions work without the mentors, short of cancelling the training events. One reader told us he has seen these mentors in action in the field and, save for the local commander, were running the show.

With the right people multiple masters can be served without ethical breach. Gates has capped pay at $179,700. We trust this will make DoD feel like the tough guys they want Congress to believe them to be. (Lawmakers have been interested in the issue and favor public disclosure.)

Bravo to the original thinker who said let’s allow these guys to disclose privately. He may have a future as a mentor.

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