The Badass Bureaucrat is a firsthand account of how self-serving public officials misused their official positions to indulge in dirty tricks, dishonesty and deceit. Motivated by ambition, greed and power, they cost taxpayers billions by abusing legal authority and violating their oath of office. A snippet from my book:
In November 1969 I was selected for a key management assignment to lead a team to conduct a worldwide review of Army commissaries. At the time I was a young Systems Accountant assigned to the Office Comptroller of the Army in Washington DC. I was tasked to fully plan and execute it and told to search for fraud, waste and abuse, rendering a report on our findings to the Army Chief of Staff. Other than that, few details were given so we improvised a plan based on what we knew and it was accepted. A memorandum establishing our mission was signed by The Army Vice-Chief of Staff (General Bruce Palmer Jr.) naming me as the Committee Chairman with complete carte blanche authority to choose the team and travel destinations. I felt a surge of confidence as we began a mission that would take us to Army commands worldwide. Arriving in Saigon we were greeted by the MAC V Commander (General Creighton Abrams) who ranted, "Don't you know there's a war going on?" However, upon reading our Charter he left unspoken. Our mission had the highest official urgency and stemmed from a luncheon called by The Secretary of Defense with the Service Secretaries in attendance. After approving our Plan of Action we were allowed only three months to conduct the review and report back our findings and recommendations. We met that deadline.
It was preceded by media reports of corruption at the highest level involving the Army's Sergeant Major (1966) who oversaw the Military Club System. He conspired along with crooks and cronies in clubs throughout the Army to line their pockets by diverting millions unhindered by upper Club members. In 1969, while Command Sergeant Major of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, William Wooldridge was accused in a congressional inquiry of fraud and corruption related to the military club system, amounting to more than $150 million annually. Worldwide club entertainment contracts were skimmed off with the excess dollars doled out to conspirators.
Former Defense Secretary Melvin Laird wanted to know the extent of criminal activity and whether or not it might have spread to all three military services. He decided to task the Army to be the guinea pig opening the possibility of later examining conditions in the sister services. Upon completing our mission we returned to brief the results. Fallout happened when I received a phone call from a Jack Anderson column reporter asking for a copy, I declined, referring him to the Comptroller of the Army (COA). Shortly thereafter, I was called to an urgent meeting of top Pentagon officials who wanted to question me about the study's findings.
Those present included Army Public Affairs Officer, Army Legal Counsel, Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics, Director of Army Budget, and Comptroller of the Army among others. It was an Inquiry and they wanted to know if the problems cited in our report were true. I replied saying they were. It ended when the Army Public Affairs Officer reluctantly summed it up by saying, I'll just tell them (media) "No Comment".
Our report dated March 15, 1970, "The Special Worldwide Review of Army Commissaries" had hit the front pages of the Washington Post and its affiliates where Jack Anderson, syndicated columnist, reveled in attacking the Army’s inability to safeguard and protect taxpayers from thievery and horrendous losses. It shocked the White House and Congress and quickly became a political bombshell. Requests for it snowballed. Jack Anderson referred to it as The Commissary Caper.
It was a scandal that shattered public confidence in a system that had gone astray. Interestingly, Congress in 1825 had authorized Army families to buy subsistence at cost from troop issue stocks because unsavory merchants peddled shoddy merchandise at high prices. Those were the days where soldiers and dependents were stationed out West in fortified outposts to resist Indian attacks and protect settlers and wagon trains.
But, by 1887 reform legislation fueled an explosion with patrons clamoring for bigger and better stores, lower prices, voluminous stocks of tastier line items and better service. That in turn drove steady growth and higher store operating costs. Patrons paid a surcharge of 5% at checkout to cover costs like paper bags, string, furnishings, minor equipment, etc., but overall the greater costs like labor, storage, transportation and facilities were paid for by taxpayers.
It continued at a record pace of about 10% annually as suppliers and military managers struggled to grow the business by increasing sales, expanding facilities and adding more staff. Military vehicles jam- packed with foodstuffs travelled to remote locations tailgating goods to National Guard members, retirees, widows, disabled veterans etc. Baited with coupons, special offers of discounts and rebates, buyers of all stripes responded like sharks at a banquet.
That spiked sales, raised hopes for more and the rest is prologue. Store managers received recognition, bonuses, promotions and gifts courtesy of suppliers emboldened by their success. Operating costs also increased exponentially pushing the government's subsidy ever higher. Hoodwinkers exploited the market’s rise. Who were they? Everyone, like the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker! They're employees and others who sought to benefit from the deep pockets of Uncle Sam. They received money, bribes, gifts, promotions, awards, in exchange for favors (like allowing vendors more shelf space to display brand names). Some were contractors, officials, managers, office chiefs, workers, friends and neighbors. We found greedy store employees who conspired with unscrupulous merchants to defraud the government with schemes like paying them for undelivered merchandise using falsified receiving documents. In another example a new commissary was built with appropriated funds in violation of law because an influential lawmaker wanted it in his District. The law required customers to pay for any new construction, not taxpayers. Losses were in the millions.
To keep the skids greased, lobbyists entertained congressmen with expensive drinks, meals, travel, lavish gifts and luxurious hospitality suites to keep the commissary privilege intact. They were hired to vigilantly guard the commissary rice bowl against all opposition. In 1825 it was a modest program to help soldiers buy groceries at fair prices. But it soon ballooned adding more claimants' willy-nilly, stoking subsidy growth. However, competition in the form of big box stores like Target, Costco and Walmart emerged to challenge them. Their superior management, reasonable prices, quality, service and selection, internet connectivity and convenient locations attracted growing numbers of military families who seemed to reject the sloppy and poorly run military commissaries. Tired of the crowded aisles, long delays, limited choices, out-of-stock items and inferior service they've voted with their feet by patronizing the competition.
Meaningful reforms have been hard to come by despite the recent giant conglomerate created when all DOD military commissaries were amalgamated under a civilian single manager structure. Intended to bulletproof itself against critics, it has barely scratched the surface. However, it's just a pseudo apparition of efficiency and effectiveness, a clever sham to preserve the influence of military puppet masters.
Moreover, Congressional oversight committees haven't significantly improved matters either because of their political foot-dragging. Although a clear mandate exists barring commissaries from locating in vicinities where commercial supermarkets are available, we were hard pressed to find any stores that had been shuttered.
The flagship store located in Alexandria, VA stands out as a shining example. Protected by Pentagon brass, it's surrounded by a throng of commercial markets and stands in clear violation of the mandate: No commissaries are allowed within a distance of 15 miles of comparable shopping stores. Inside, generals and admirals elbow around to satisfy their eclectic tastes like chocolate covered caterpillars, escargot, Major Grays chutney sauce, edible ants, etc.
Grasping their credit cards, members can be found rummaging through stacks of goods while bantering and pushing their overloaded carts through checkout counters. Outside, accomplices patiently wait, ready to take their share of the spoils and run. Of course, none complain that taxpayers are paying a hefty one-third of their grocery bills. They wince when confronted; their mantra: It's our God given right, not a privilege! However, they are a privileged group that contributes absolutely nothing to combat readiness and they do nothing to justify the subsidy.
Maybe justice would be better served by extending the commissary privilege to include poverty-stricken families or, reprogram resources to help them? The single mother, the senior citizen, the veteran who seeks help - they all could be someone you know. Life's circumstances can change quickly - the loss of a job, the sudden death of a spouse, a tragic accident – can cause a drastic change in one's ability to put food on the table and make ends meet. Allowing them to buy groceries at 33% discount would be a better use of taxpayer money than giving it to the hoodwinkers.
Marginalized they barely get by living in cold and freezing weather under tarps without the necessities of life. They are like us, human beings who deserve more than just benevolent neglect. They have feelings like everyone else. They are scared, vulnerable, and in desperate need of our generosity and kindness. Where is the compassion of a nation that basically ignores them? Meanwhile, Congress fiddles while little is done to help them. Without a political voice no one hears their cries or really cares. Meanwhile, President Carter during his administration tried to eliminate the stores but failed to win Congressional approval. It was like trying to defeat the gun lobby.
Fraud, waste and abuse are endless. Losses have been staggering for the military stores. Amazingly, The DOD Inspector General issued a disclaimer on the financial statements of the Defense Commissary Agency (DCA) saying in part... "internal control material weaknesses... merit management’s attention... not in compliance with laws and regulations". We don't know what the real losses are and probably never will. However, at Walmart you can whistle at their yearly losses of $3 billion. Shoppers have been caught loading carts with merchandise and strolling out without paying. Employees have also been caught concealing goods, altering paperwork, diverting assets and conspiring to manipulate the system.
Numbering about 300 stores and over $4 billion in annual sales the military sales program ranks above most worldwide chains. Average annual market basket savings for a family of four is estimated by DCA to be $9,240. Congress needs to hold DCA accountable for mismanagement by elimination or making them fully self-sustaining like commercial stores.
1Note: A DCA official recently criticized a Congressional proposal to make the commissary 'budget neutral' saying: "My message is that we can't take that drastic step and expect to maintain the benefit". Commissary lobbyists continue petitioning Congress to retain member benefits despite the billions of dollars it costs taxpayers who get nothing in return from this give-away program. Congress has a poor record in this regard and needs to step up to the plate and kill the program, or, make it budget neutral.
HELP THOSE WHO NEED IT MOST - NOT THE HOODWINKERS!
LET'S GIVE THEM HOPE!
A Shivering Homeless Veteran finds warmth in strangers' kindness.