There are some sensational headlines out there – headlines not even worthy of clickbait -that make this sound like a scandal. My advice? Don’t fall for it. Senior officials, officers and appointees alike, spend a lot of time on the road. This is nothing new. I once worked for a member of the Senior Executive Service (SES) who traveled at least 50-percent of each month. What really happened here is that someone in the Pentagon filed an IG complaint. In all likelihood, this person was passed over for a promotion or didn’t like his/her annual evaluation and decided to take a swipe at The Man.
The Navy secretary has spent more than a full year of his five-year tenure on overseas travel, racking up more than 930,000 miles on trips that cost the taxpayer more than $4.7 million.
The inspector general investigated after receiving a complaint about his travel and cleared him of any wrongdoing, Mabus said, but his 373 days on the road contrast with those of Army Secretary John McHugh, who took fewer than half the trips at less than half the cost over the same time period.
According to data obtained and compiled by The Associated Press, Mabus’ flights cost $4.6 million for fuel, maintenance and crew. Mabus also spent about $116,000 on hotels, meals and other costs. The Army leader’s trips totaled 126 days and cost about $2 million for the flights. He spent under $33,000 for hotels, meals and other personal expenses on his 18 trips.
The Secretary has every right to travel as he sees fit. Predictably, the IG discovered no wrong-doing. One full year of travel sounds like a tremendous amount. Twenty-percent of his tenure sounds like much less. You see? Words matter.
This story is interesting only when it’s viewed in context, and given the budget woes of the past few years, there is context aplenty.
With the persistent specter of sequestration and continuing resolution hanging over the military, mission essential travel for Sailors and Marines on the deckplates and in the trenches has been difficult to come by. I’m not talking about military tourism. I’m talking about mission essential travel. For the better part of a year, a $600 TAD/TDY for a young Airman required Flag Officer approval, even if the funds were available in the requesting command’s budget. It’s very difficult to explain to an E-5 that he can’t go to corrosion control school in San Diego while the SECNAV is on a snowmobile safari in Scandinavia. Muckety-mucks love to talk about “optics” when sitting around long conference-room tables. That, my friends, is an optic.
Just 12 days ago, this gem hit the street.
The timing is curious. I doubt the Secretary’s message has anything to do with the probe into his official travel. I believe very much that it has everything to do with Fat Leonard and the recent press surrounding VADM Branch. Phase zero operations. Shape the environment. Prepare the battlespace.
When in a foreign area, accepting gifts of food, refreshments, or entertainment at events under the gift exception in accordance with 5 C.F.R. section 2635.204(i) heightens these risks. Therefore, to mitigate against the potential inappropriate acceptance of gifts, when relying upon this specific gift exception, I direct all DON personnel to secure a written determination that their participation and acceptance of food, refreshments, or entertainment at a meeting or an event held in a foreign area is official under 5 C.F.R. section 2635.204(i) prior to attendance or acceptance of such gifts. Only Presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed (PAS) officials, Flag/General Officers, and Senior Executive Service (SES) members are authorized to make the determination regarding attendance at such events for their subordinates. Only officers in the grade of O-10 and PAS officials may make this determination for their own acceptance after consultation with an ethics counselor. All other Flag/General Officers and SES members shall seek a determination from their chain of command. All PAS officials, Flag/General officers, and SES members shall consult with a designated ethics counselor prior to making each determination under this section, and shall ensure that same is properly documented.
While the Secretary is selling his photo-books online for $220 per copy, the Lieutenant who is going to get a free hot dog and a beer at the American Club in Hong Kong needs Flag Officer approval. In writing. That, my friends, is an optic.
It is very important for senior officials, like the SECNAV, to travel and get in and amongst Sailors and Marines. Wave the flag. Hand out some awards. Show that you care. It is a mistake for any senior official to believe that his/her visit represents observation of reality. The ship has been scrubbed from top to bottom for a week straight. Every brief has been vetted at the highest level. Everyone is coached on what to say and what not to say. There is no chance the SECNAV is going to be escorted for a viewing of the barracks that is badly in need of overhaul or replacement. And while the SECNAV is talking about the Department’s commitment to green energy, the kid in the back of the room is just hoping his orders get approved so he doesn’t have to do the entire ten month cruise.
That is reality.
Photo Credit: Stars and Stripes