First GSA, then the VA, now an Army officer allegedly involved in frivolous spending. Who's next?
A former four-star Army general is awaiting a final ruling on allegations that he improperly spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in government funds, including on travel and unauthorized use of military vehicles, detailed in a report from the Defense Department's Inspector General.
Gen. William “Kip” Ward, who was the first commander of U.S. Africa Command, is accused of lavish overspending and misuse of DOD personnel on a range of trips and items. Among the grievances: expensive hotel rooms, family and personal travel on military aircraft and in other military vehicles, improperly documented time off, acceptance of gifts from prohibited sources including Broadway tickets, and the use of aides to fetch items such as infant formula and Snickers bars.
Ward was frequently accompanied on trips by his wife Joyce, whom he said joined him because her presence was “of diplomatic and public relations benefit to the United States,” according to the report, which also stated that she on multiple occasions dispatched military staff to run her personal errands. Additionally, the findings suggested that Ward’s staff was directed to find reasons for Mrs. Ward to accompany the general on trips.
The findings on Ward are the latest incident in a series of government scandals that have put a spotlight on financial misuse in some of Washington’s most powerful organizations. Earlier this year the General Services Administration lost its administrator and several other officials after an Inspector General report detailed apparent wasteful spending at a 2010 conference. More recently, the Veterans Affairs department was accused of overspending on two 2011 conferences, allegations now under investigation.
The Wards have yet to respond to the newly public list of accusations, but in a rebuttal to the IG report Ward defended himself and his wife.
“The statement that my wife sat someone down and said to make provisions to take her on every trip is an obvious misrepresentation and character assassination,” he wrote, according to the Navy Times. “The portrayal in these allegations that we were ‘hunting’ for reasons for my wife to travel is so misleading as to be false.”
The IG's office issued an updated report in June, saying that Ward's response had not substantially altered its conclusions.
Ward had been under investigation for more than a year. Last year his rank was reduced to major general -- the two-star rank -- Stars and Stripes reported in May 2011. However, that was an admnistrative change, not a demotion, Army officials told the newspaper. "Appointments to lieutenant general and general are temporary, and if an officer is not filling a position designated by the president . . . the officer reverts to his last permanent grade,” Army spokesman George Wright said in a statement quoted in that report. “General Ward’s last permanent grade is major general.”
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has been presented with the findings of the DOD inspector general and is expected to make a final decision on Ward's fate in the next few weeks, according to a DOD spokesperson. Ward's retirement is on hold pending a final disposition, according to published reports.
“We’re seeing a pattern of people abusing power and using their power for personal gain,” said Project on Government Oversight’s Ben Freeman. “This may not be big money as far as DOD spending goes, but it’s indicative of people being reckless of taxpayer dollars. It’s more symbolic.”
Freeman said it's possible that increasing budget pressure is prompting a crackdown on spending, but noted there are other factors as well.
“We know more about it now because of technological advances…but as the budget of an organization increases, the opportunity to do stuff like this also increases,” he said. “The question I have is how many of these other things are going on and why does it take so long to find out? Why do we have to wait a year to find out why [Ward] was demoted?”
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