Pentagon Unveils Plan To Curtail Unethical Conduct By Senior Officers By Gordon Lubold


DeM Banter: But wait…there’s more…
I still struggle with this…is it really a “training” issue? Will “…forcing the Defense Department to expand training, emphasize ethics in military education and require a new way to assess the character of officers by their peers – and their subordinates,” answer the issue? Or is this really two separate issues? Training at the 20+ year point in ethics might be a tad late…but the assessing of character by peers and subordinates or a 360 feedback loop is interesting. I just wonder if it will stick. Will it last longer than the current CJCS?
Interesting there is much ink below given to the aides and staffs keeping the leader in line, that makes me cringe…but the “wrong-doing” is indeed limited, but this is an opportunity to sharpen our leaders as well…it will be telling to see what the DoD does when it determines (through 360 feedback) that a leader is lacking…Interesting times for sure…

The E-Ring (
April 13, 2013

The E-Ring: Inside the Pentagon’s Power Corridors

The ethics problems that rocked the Pentagon’s senior officer corps last year and resulted in a number of investigations and ruined careers, is forcing the Defense Department to expand training, emphasize ethics in military education and require a new way to assess the character of officers by their peers – and their subordinates.

The Pentagon’s Joint Staff has just finished an ethics review that was put into high gear late last year after a series of problems among a number of senior officers that culminated with the removal of former four-star general David Petraeus from the CIA, and an investigation into the war commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen. The ethics review, conducted by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey, didn’t find widespread wrongdoing or create a laundry list of specific actions to be mandated across the Defense Department. Instead, Dempsey seems to have refocused the officer corps on ethics issues by mandating a few initiatives department-wide and then requiring that the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines work to come up with solutions specific to their departments. Other issues, like the definition of what an official function is or how and when to use enlisted aides, will fall to the Office of the Secretary of Defense to determine and then standardize the rules across the military. In many ways, the review only begins a new effort to begin to inculcate the military with stronger ethical guidance.

The review, completed just recently and briefed to FP’s National Security on Friday, addresses some of the very issues that arose from specific cases in which general or flag officers found themselves in hot water: from pushing for more department-wide clarity and consistency on regulations that govern ethical behavior, to expanded support and training for aides who provide administrative support to senior officers. For example, the services and Joint Staff are developing ways to infuse military education with more focus on ethical conduct. It’s also creating a way to enforce compliance with ethics rules by having “assistance teams” visit commands and determine if the rules are being followed. Aides who provide administrative support – but can, in some cases, be the de facto decision makers on important matters, from what functions a commander attends to who goes on a trip – will get additional training.

The review also includes a mandate for the services to create a performance evaluation tool to assess leaders from all angles – a “360-degree” evaluation.

Despite an increasing number of investigations against senior officers, defense officials are quick to point out that only a small number of them are ever substantiated, and even those represent a small number of officers. Regardless, maintaining the public trust is the highest priority, said Lt. Gen. George Flynn, director of joint force development for the Joint Staff, in an interview in his office in the Pentagon.

“If one individual can impact how people view one thousand people on the issue of trust, you have to do everything you can,” said Flynn, who along with other senior officers on the Pentagon’s Joint Staff helped conduct the review. “When you are talking about trust it is probably the one area where you have to have zero defects.”

A number of high-profile ethics cases involving senior officers raised high-level attention to the issue of senior officer ethics last year. The problems ran the gamut, from the financial and ethical mismanagement of U.S. Africa Command by Gen. William “Kip” Ward to the abusive command climate Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly was investigated for at the Missile Defense Agency. Adm. James Stavridis, head of U.S. European Command and Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, was investigated for different issues, among them travel and expenses, but was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing.

Such cases pointed up the need for commanders’ aides to be better versed in the rules governing ethical behavior – as well as the necessity for senior officers to know the rules themselves. A push to elevate the issue of ethical behavior among senior officers was quietly underway but was accelerated after the sex scandal that felled Petraeus and jeopardized the career of Allen.

“We need to do a better job making sure our senior folks and especially their staffs are well aware of the rules and regulations,” said one senior officer who did not participate formally in the Joint Staff review. “Very, very few people are trying to do anything bad like have an affair, pass classified information, or abuse their people — the vast majority are good leaders trying to comply with very complex regulations on travel, official gift exchanges, and support.”

But another senior officer said he worries that the Pentagon could be seen as not taking the ethics issue seriously, and that could send the wrong message to Congress, society at large and even the rank-and-file of the uniformed military.

“I’m not worried about us overreacting too much,” the officer said. “I think the greater risk is conveying a message to [society, Congress and the enlisted corps] that we’re really OK, that, yeah, we had a couple of bad guys but the rest of us are just fine.”

The 360-degree assessment or performance evaluation is likely the most tangible takeaway from the review process. It will mean officers will be evaluated by their peers, superiors and subordinates. “A 360-degree assessment mechanism will provide our leaders with greater self-awareness, serve as an inherent check against destructive leadership and misconduct, and provide a more complete picture of emerging leaders for raters and selection boards,” according to a memo on the review signed by Dempsey. “We will establish both joint and service Senior Fellow programs to enhance the use of these assessments in professional development.” The Army uses such assessments now, but on a more limited basis.

Dempsey was personally involved with the review but designated subordinates like Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, director of the Joint Staff, and Flynn as action officers. Dempsey held several discussions with the service chiefs in the secure meeting room in the Pentagon’s E-Ring known as “the tank.”

The effort found a number of areas that needed strengthening or more clarity, but some of those issues will have to be addressed not within the Joint Staff, which has direction over training, for example, but the Office of the Secretary of Defense, which would determine travel regulations and the use of certain personnel on trips.

Flynn emphasized that the tone of the actions to be taken is less punitive and more positive reinforcement. For example, new “assistance visits” will be comprised of officials well-versed in military rules and regulations who will visit commands to ensure that senior officers and their aides and those who provide other administrative support are doing the right thing. The teams aren’t met to seem like a health inspector showing up at a restaurant to look for vermin, but more as a tool to help steer commands and commanders toward compliance.

“It’s designed to assure compliance, it’s not designed to be a punitive thing,” said Flynn.

Some aspects of the moves to be taken will be left to the services. Depending on the issue, Flynn said, it’s important not to dictate a certain way of doing things to the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines.

“General Dempsey is not going to tell [Marine Corps Commandant] General Amos what to do in the Marine Corps,” Flynn said. “He’s not going to get into service prerogatives or department prerogatives.”

But one senior officer said leaving too much to the services could dull the impact of the changes by leaving too much room for each initiative to be interpreted and implemented differently. “I recognize that there are service cultures at play here but I think there should be some degree of standardization, which I think we can do while still recognizing the historical and cultural service differences,” he said.

3 Replies to “Pentagon Unveils Plan To Curtail Unethical Conduct By Senior Officers By Gordon Lubold”

  1. DeMarconian solutions pervade this article… It makes so much sense and reading through this, it gives me hope that leaders at the highest levels are finally getting in tuned with the 360 feedback mechanism. If a top level review says it should be a priority, one would hope it can “stick”. Definitely understand the queasy feeling reading about how staffs should be versed in proper etiquette but the fact the author goes out of his way to emphasize the importance of reminding the senior leader themselves on potential pitfalls, it gives me hope. There are always flaws but having 360 feedback on the scope.. That can only mean good things.

    Imagine if one of the DeMarco spies could end up at the Pentagon and take on implementing the program… And no, I’m not volunteering. 🙂

    Last point, imagine if Jeremie and his team were able to give the Defense Department their philosophy… We could rebuild the leadership enterprise from the top down. A bridge too far?…

    1. Would love to use some of GiANT’s stuff in our education process… would pay huge dividends…
      Let’s watch this one and see where it goes.

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