The U.S. Army says it began paying retired generals to come back as mentors in the late 1980s. The Joint Forces Command program dates to 1995. The Air Force began a mentoring program in 2000, the Marines in 2002 and the Navy in 2004, according to the military services and commands.
Some mentoring is done in classrooms at war colleges, some in meetings at the Pentagon and some in war zones. Though they are modeled after one another, the programs are separate — run by the military branches and various commands, not the Defense Department. There is no single budget or set of policies.
In fact, Air Force Chief of Staff Norton Schwartz in May ordered his staff to determine the number, location and compensation of Air Force mentors, according to the general doing the review, Brig. Gen. John R. "Bob" Ranck.
In interviews, Mattis, Ranck and other active-duty officials extol the benefits of the programs, calling them an invaluable way to train leaders and hear from experts who no longer have to worry about career advancement. Mentors give advice untainted by their business interests, they say. "They're pretty self-policing," Ranck says.
Spending on the programs has grown in recent years. The Navy, for example, went from spending $112,000 to pay mentors in 2005 to $838,000 for its four mentors in the current year, according to figures that service released, which do not include the Marines. Other services would not release similar spending figures, but said the programs have expanded. The Army now uses mentors in 70 exercises a year, up from 31 in 2002, says Col. Steven Boylan, an Army spokesman.
Other information is kept from public view. For example, the military services have never made public a full list of their senior mentors. All but the Marines say they are unable to disclose how much each mentor has been paid. They can't do so, they say, because the information is the property of contracting firms who pay the mentors as subcontractors.
The Air Force, Marines, Army and Navy released some names after repeated requests by USA TODAY. Spokesmen for the Air Force, Marines and Army said they could not be sure the lists were complete. The Air Force, for example, was only able to provide names for the most recent fiscal year. The Missile Defense Agency, the Defense Department's missile defense research, testing and deployment arm, refused, without explanation, to disclose the names.
None of the services collects data about the mentors' private business affiliations.
"Government ethics laws are in place for a reason," Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said in a statement. "These laws require that any potential conflicts of interest be disclosed, evaluated and managed. I would expect the Pentagon to fully comply with both the letter and spirit of these requirements. The invaluable expertise of retired military officers should be utilized without sacrificing transparency and accountability."
Some mentors earn more as part-time advisers than they did while serving.
For example, the Marines say they paid retired Lt. Gen. Martin Berndt $212,000 plus expenses to be a part-time mentor in the 12 months that ended Sept. 30. Berndt, 62, retired in 2005 as commander of Marines forces in the Atlantic region, a job that paid about $148,000 a year.