Program to Rein in Retired Officers Working as Private Contractors Delayed

The Pentagon has not yet determined how many retired generals and admirals it has converted from contractors to government employees under a new policy ordered by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, according to interviews with military officials.

The policy was to have taken effect July 1.

Gates ordered the change to rein in the pay and require financial disclosures for the retired three- and four-star officers, known as senior mentors, who have worked as private contractors. Congress is moving to put Gates' order into law.

Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn will require the services to tell the Pentagon by July 31 how many mentors have been hired as government employees, Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said Thursday.

"We don't have a good sense" of compliance with the policy, Whitman said. "That's why we want to take the step to evaluate what the compliance has been."

Whitman said the 90-day deadline was not firm. Gates' order told the services to abide by it "to the maximum extent practicable," he said.

Gates issued his order in response to a series of USA TODAY reports about the mentor program. His order limited their pay to $179,000 a year, barred them from sharing military information they learned as mentors with private companies and required them to file financial disclosures.

USA TODAY found that some mentors -- retired officers hired as contractors to advise active-duty officers -- earned up to $440 per hour as consultants. In some cases, they made nearly five times their active-duty pay.

The newspaper identified 158 officers who worked as mentors. Of those, 80 percent worked for defense companies doing business with the Pentagon. They also collected pensions, some totaling more than $220,000. Most mentors were employed as subcontractors to large defense companies, positions that do not require public disclosure.

The Army has received exceptions from the Pentagon for many of its mentor contracts to prevent disruptions in training, spokesman Gary Tallman said. Most of those contracts will expire Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, he said. The Army says it is working to comply with Gates' policy.

Joint Forces Command, based in Norfolk, Va., is "in the process" of converting mentors to government employees, according to spokeswoman Kathleen Jabs.

Rep. Robert Andrews, D-N.J., said Congress wants Gates' policy put into law to ensure that the military abides by it. Andrews, who chairs a House panel on defense acquisition reform, said the Pentagon probably is having trouble determining how many mentors it has because their use has proliferated.

Late last month, senators quizzed Gen. Ray Odierno, the incoming chief of Joint Forces Command, about how he would clean up the program. Joint Forces Command has contracted with at least 34 mentors. "There's a lot of concern" on mentors' pay, their undisclosed business interests and potential for conflicts of interest, Sen. James Webb, D-Va., told Odierno.

Odierno should examine the use of mentors, said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Armed Services Committee. Some mentors make $1,600 a day, "more than an Army private running combat missions earns in an entire month," he said.

Odierno said he had benefited from senior mentors' experience and pledged to have the command follow Gates' order. "It's important that we get this program right and we continue to have a program that allows senior leaders to have mentors," Odierno said.

Levin pressed Odierno to focus on mentors' pay.

"I hope you'll not only look at those matters, but look at the way in which the funding is provided to those mentors and contractors, which then apparently get a cut of the money that goes to the mentors themselves," he said.