Mentors: Gates Succumbs to Pressure from the Hill?

Defense Secretary (and Former Super Hero) Robert M. Gates has announced policy changes for retired military leaders working as mentors for the services.

An outline of the revised program was reported by USA Today, the same outlet that “broke” the sordid mentor (non) tale.

The new policy purports to balance “the military’s desire to tap the wisdom of its former leaders ‘with the need to hire such experts in a manner that promotes public trust and confidence,’ says a Pentagon fact sheet sent to lawmakers.”
The guidelines that cover retired senior officers who provide guidance during war games and other military exercises were cobbled together in a matter of months, possibly indicating strong congressional interest. Civilian control of the military is crucial; congressional strong-arming of the defense secretary is of questionable value.

Judging from informal discussions with some of the mentors and mentored, sure these guys get paid, but the mentors we saw at a recent war game probably had better and more lucrative things to do. It seems many of these retired leaders sign up as mentors because they are good at it. We don’t sense the “Scam Uncle Sam” vibe.

Gates says he is going to lower rates the mentors are paid, though no details were available. (Reportedly some are compensated in the $400/hour range.) Overall, Gates’ guidelines appear vague and broad. One states that mentors cannot “… participate in matters in which they have a conflict of interest, defined in federal law as taking official action that has ‘a direct and predictable effect’ on their personal interests.”

Conflict of interest seems to be the panic button. But the mentors could glean better defense industry scoop from their friends leading top units or those on the Joint Staff than from most mentor gigs.

For mentors, the guidelines may prove a hassle. Some may leave the program; many probably will stay. Having sat through one day of a war game, if that mess did not send these guys running for the exits, Gates probably can’t deter them.

Harassing mentors (and those who need their services) provides no solution to a non-problem. Aren’t there more pressing concerns?

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