Briefing Report: The California National Guard

While the Rank-and-File Risk Life and Limb, Are Top Brass Enriching Themselves Through Shell Games with Public Funds?
Wednesday, July 6, 2011

America's historical affection for her Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen continues unabated. The national public opinion polling firm, Rasmussen Reports, recently reaffirmed that the U.S. military continues to hold an honored place in the hearts of the citizenry - in spite of the war-weariness afflicting many Americans. Indeed, the military's popularity far outstrips that of lawyers, journalists and politicians.

But, it looks as if some bad apples in the California National Guard (CalGuard) may have been working overtime to sabotage those numbers.

Scandal in the Guardhouse

In October 2010, the Sacramento Bee began a series of stories by investigative journalist Charles Piller. He reported that several whistleblowers within or affiliated with the CalGuard alleged that recruiting and retention incentive programs (primarily in the form of cash bonuses and student loan repayments) were being improperly awarded in great amounts. The allegations suggested that as much as $100 million in federal funds had been wasted, or perhaps fraudulently distributed, over the preceding decade.

Before long, more whistleblowers were coming out of the woodwork with new, different allegations, leading to more news stories. In November 2010, the Senate and Assembly Veterans' Affairs committees launched a series of oversight hearings.

Then word leaked out that multiple federal agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Internal Revenue Service, U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, and U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations, may be conducting a joint investigation.

CalGuard in a Nutshell

The National Guard of the United States (NGUS) is a military force composed of state National Guard militia units and individual members serving on either federally-recognized active or inactive duty status service. The NGUS is a joint command, maintaining two reserve components: The Army National Guard in support of the U.S. Army and the Air National Guard in support of the U.S. Air Force.

Each of the 50 states, along with Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia, has a national guard. All state guards have an Army Guard component and most have an Air Guard component. With a total authorized strength of more than 20,000 soldiers and airmen, the CalGuard is the nation's largest such force.

Guided by the federal military, the state guards train their units and individual members to meet the professional standards of the full-time "regular" U.S. Army and Air Force so that they may be integrated seamlessly as part of the national warfighting force when necessary. When not mobilized into federal active duty by order of the President, state guard units are under the control of their state governors, even though the bulk of their time involves training for their federal mission. Most guard members are citizen-soldiers, maintaining full-time civilian careers, while working part-time for the military.

Since 9/11, more than 35,000 CalGuard members have deployed overseas in warfighting and nation-building operations. Approximately 2,200 men and women currently serve in the Middle East, where they have performed honorably. Twenty-two have been killed in action and scores more wounded.

Additionally, the Governor frequently mobilizes guardsmen in response to state-level emergencies, where they fight floods and wildfires and help control civil unrest.

State Military Department: Another Nutshell

The California Military Department is a state agency that exists parallel to the CalGuard. It is integrated with the CalGuard's senior and mid-level leadership. The Department is responsible for command and management of the CalGuard and answers to the Governor.

Appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate, the Adjutant General (TAG) fills two posts, simultaneously commanding both the CalGuard and the Military Department.

Under the TAG's leadership, this parallel structure oversees the mix of federal and state dollars that fund the CalGuard's personnel and facilities. The federal government pays all the CalGuard salaries and for most training and facilities. California state taxpayers kick in funds maintaining local armories, paying state active-duty salaries, and certain other costs.

Military Department employees are state, not federal, employees. Many are uniformed full-time employees on state-paid "state active duty" (SAD) status. They look and act just like federal active duty military members and are held to most of the same standards. But, many other Department workers are non-uniformed civil servants who look and work like other state workers, such as those in the Departments of Water Resources or Food and Agriculture.

Whether they are uniformed SAD personnel or "civilian" civil service employees, the majority of Department workers also have part-time careers as members of the CalGuard and are subject to federal mobilization. Their Guard unit assignments may be related or unrelated to their full-time Military Department state jobs.

The First Shoe Drops

The two initial whistleblowers were full-time uniformed employees. These two sergeants inherited responsibility for Army Guard incentive programs in late 2009, following the retirement of a predecessor now implicated in the alleged wrongdoing.

After weeks of reviewing their predecessor's questionable records, the whistleblowers contacted an external federal military auditor, whose job entails overseeing federal funds spent by state Guard organizations.

The auditor soon uncovered more problems, including what appeared to be improper activity by commissioned officers. When CalGuard leaders failed to respond to the whistleblowers' allegations, the auditor contacted several federal agencies. In the summer of 2010, those agencies launched their criminal probes.

Some reports estimate that hundreds of commissioned officers and thousands of enlisted CalGuard troops wrongly received bonuses and student loan payoffs. It is likely that most enlisted Guard members trusted program managers and did not realize that they were ineligible to receive the payments; nevertheless, many may yet be required to pay back all or part of the overpayments.

The probability is much higher that at least some of the commissioned officers who received improper payments were aware of the impropriety. For example, one officer, a major ineligible for any such bonus, received twenty-one $3,000 checks in a single calendar day.  Another officer ineligible to receive the bonus allegedly had $10,000 wired to a credit card account.

The Second Shoe Drops

In December 2010, Bee reporter Piller reported that a number of pilots with the Air Guard's 144 th Fighter Wing (located at the Fresno Air National Guard Base) had engaged in a form of double-dipping on military pay.

After earning a legal day's pay flying their F-16 jet fighters, these pilots allegedly pulled a second shift - again at full pay - in or near an "alert" ready room on "on-call" status. The alert status is justified by strategic national security requirement that some scramble-ready assets must be available on short notice to intercept air intrusions by hostile nations or 9/11 style terrorist attacks.

According to news reports, a federal audit determined that the practice goes back to 2008, perhaps farther - and violates federal law and military regulations against earning more than one payday on a single calendar day. Reportedly, the audit also found that some pilots earned full pay for standby shifts spent at home, sleeping in their own beds, or while off on vacation so long as they could physically report to the base within 12 hours.

Guardsmen cynically refer to the program as "Dozing for Dollars."

In one case, Air Guard pilots allegedly drew pay for being on alert status in Fresno, while they were actually in Tokyo, Japan flying for their civilian employer.  Several Air National Guard pilots reportedly received in excess of $400,000.

One of the most senior officers in the fighter wing - who also worked as a full-time uniformed SAD employee - received about $268,000 in 2009 and up to $300,000 in 2010 - more than double his annual salary. Allegedly, auditors estimated that more than 40% of that colonel's recent income was improper. In late 2010, the TAG relieved him of his position. That officer's predecessor was placed on administrative leave, too, after being implicated in similar improprieties. This likely short-circuited the military career of an officer reportedly being groomed to assume command of the state's overall Air Guard component.

In mid-March 2011, another Piller story reported that several other senior pilots under investigation for "dozing" double-dipping had been elevated to senior positions in the 144 th Fighter Wing in late 2010, including an officer installed as the newest wing commander.

A Torrential Rain of Shoes

Other sources indicate that yet more wrongdoing is being uncovered.

Camp Roberts is the largest of the CalGuard's three major training sites. It is located along the San Luis Obispo/Monterey county line. Most California Army guardsmen train at Camp Roberts prior to deploying overseas. Articles in the Bee and the local newspaper confirm that the facility is largely composed of ancient, crumbling, even dangerous buildings - despite the fact that the federal government regularly sends millions of dollars to California to repair and maintain the post and train soldiers.

Some observers allege cronyism - in particular, that CalGuard generals and other officers, as far back as 1986, have misappropriated congressionally dedicated money, using it to place buddies on the SAD payroll.

Another allegation is that some generals and other officers, while serving on SAD status, defrauded the federal and state governments by drawing federal pay while in a state pay status - and state pay while in a federal pay status. A nearly identical situation in the Texas National Guard led to Governor Perry's sacking all of the Texas Guard's generals in March 2009.

Other critics point to the millions of dollars solicited a few years ago from defense contractors and others by a Guard-related "nonprofit organization." The allegation is that senior CalGuard officers profited personally, misusing the charitable contributions to capitalize an investment enterprise never actually registered as a nonprofit organization with either the federal government or any state.

Finally, there are charges that senior officers suppressed equal employment opportunity complaints, retaliated against would-be whistleblowers, and attempted to limit investigative access to pay and other records.

Conclusion

Until the investigations are completed, we do not know how many of the allegations are valid and how many are without merit; however, the CalGuard already has admitted that some are true.

Meanwhile, the state legislative oversight committees are trying to carefully identify and fix agency management problems in real-time.

But something needs to be done. These types of wrongdoing do great damage on several levels.

They rip off federal and state taxpayers, who already are burdened by historic debt.

And, they jeopardize the fighting morale and training effectiveness of our citizen-soldiers, the young men and women who place their lives on the line to defend the rest of us in the Global War on Terror.

 

For more information on this report or other Veterans Affairs issues , contact Wade Teasdale, Senate Republican Office of Policy at 916/651-1501.