Military 'Mentor' Pay a Main Factor in Review of Program

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Robert Gates' decision announced Wednesday to order a review of the Pentagon's payments to retired senior officers for their advice was prompted in part by how much these "mentors" get paid.

A USA TODAY review found:

• The Navy pays its mentors an average of about $330 per hour, including expenses, according to its budget.

• The Marines pay $187 per hour for labor alone. In 2009, retired lieutenant general Robert Blackman made $253,500 in labor costs and was paid $72,260 for expenses.

• The Air Force pays $160 to $486 per hour, not including expenses. The Air Force regards as "fair prices" its payments of nearly $500 an hour to contract with retired high-ranking military officers to work as senior mentors, according to its documents.

• Joint Forces Command, which uses at least 34 senior mentors to help train active-duty officers, pays retired three- and four-star officers about $1,600 a day plus expenses. Retired Marine lieutenant general Emil "Buck" Bedard was paid $216,000 in 2009 for 136 days, records show.

• The Army's rate of pay could not be determined.

Other than the Marines, which contract with mentors directly, the services have declined to release complete data on how much mentors have been paid, arguing that such information is not public because the retired officers were not hired directly by the government. Retired officers who serve as mentors also collect their pension, which in some cases can pay up to $220,000, according to the Pentagon.

A USA TODAY investigation published last month found that 80% of 158 mentors the newspaper could identify had ties to defense contractors. The mentors are not required to disclose those affiliations because they are hired as contractors, not temporary federal employees.

Gates ordered Deputy Secretary William Lynn's review after reading the USA TODAY reports, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said.

Gates believes the goals of the mentor programs are worthwhile, Morrell said. However, he said the Pentagon needs to determine how to use the experience and expertise of retired senior officers "yet pay them in a way that most people would expect government employees and government consultants to be paid."

"The deputy secretary is going to look at it from both perspectives: whether or not the compensation is appropriate and whether or not ... there is too much of a potential for a conflict of interest or the appearance of one," Morrell said.

Also Wednesday, the Senate took up a House-passed defense spending bill that calls for the Defense Department's inspector general to review the mentors programs about which lawmakers expressed "deep concern."

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