Lawmakers chide California Guard leader for 'code of silence'

Published: Saturday, Jul. 2, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011 - 6:04 pm

California National Guard Adjutant General David S. Baldwin received a sharp rebuke from members of the state Senate Veterans Affairs Committee this week for a recent policy meant to clarify rules that govern Guard members' contact with elected representatives.

"Your letter leads us to question both your leadership and your commitment to reforming abuses in the National Guard," wrote Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, the committee chairman, and Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance. "Imposing a code of silence over your members does not encourage reform; rather it breeds misconduct."

Under Baldwin's policy, service members can freely contact elected officials for "issues or problems related to their service in the California National Guard." But Guard members were directed to go through the agency's government affairs office, it said, before contacting lawmakers or their staff on other matters.

The senators called Baldwin's policy a violation of the federal Military Whistleblower Protection Act, and said it has "already caused great damage," by inhibiting those who might try to report wrongdoing by superiors.

In a prepared statement, Guard spokesman Maj. Thomas Keegan said the policy merely established "a coordinated effort to engage elected officials and staff on matters related to the Military Department," of which the Guard is the chief component.

"It in no way restricts a service member's right to communicate whistle-blower information or other protected communication with elected officials," he said, adding that Guard officials will work with Correa and Lieu on the matter.

A series of Bee investigations since last fall exposed widespread misconduct and apparent fraud within the Guard.

This included up to $100 million in improper incentive payments to Guard members and extensive, improper double-dipping – two days' pay for a single day of work – by a prior adjutant general, Maj. Gen. William H. Wade II. Much of the information came from whistle-blowers.

In 2009, a memo from Wade told Guard members that the state Whistleblower Protection Act protects them from retaliation for reporting improper activities to the Military Department inspector general or the California state auditor. It did not address protections for members who contact the press or elected representatives.

Correa and Lieu urged Baldwin to reassure service members that they are free to contact elected officials for any reason, "including reporting fraud, waste, and abuse," and that they would not be punished for doing so.

Baldwin has removed from command some leaders who were implicated in the financial scandals, and recently vowed to reform the Guard's "ethical culture," because the organization had "lost its way, ethically and morally."

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Charles Piller



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