National Guard inspector general bill OK'd by California Legislature

09/01/2012 12:00 AM

08/31/2012 11:29 PM

The state Legislature approved a bill Friday that would increase independence for the inspector general of the California Military Department, which includes the National Guard, and augment protections for Guard members or employees who become whistle-blowers.

Senate Bill 921 responds to concerns raised in a Bee investigation of the Guard during 2010 and 2011, which exposed widespread financial fraud in recruitment and retention programs, improper pay for generals and neglect of Camp Roberts, the California Army Guard's largest training base.

If Gov. Jerry Brown signs the bill into law, he would then appoint an inspector general to a four-year term. That official would report to the adjutant general, the top Guard leader, but could not be removed from office except for good cause.

"As a result of the past scandals in the National Guard and the investigation by the Sacramento Bee, it became clear to me that we needed some systematic reform," said Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee. Lieu and committee Chairman Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, were lead authors of the bill.

The inspector general would still be subordinate to the adjutant general under the proposed changes, but claims against the adjutant general or assistant adjutant general must be referred to federal Guard authorities and the governor.

The inspector general would respond to whistleblower complaints and issue an annual report about investigations to the governor and Legislature. That report and quarterly updates also would be made public.

The new legislation "should give the members of the Military Department the confidence to report fraud, waste and abuse to the inspector general, and that it will be investigated fairly and correctly," Lieu said.

The bill passed both houses of the Legislature unanimously.

The Bee series described how leading pilots in the Guard's Fresno-based 144th Fighter Wing improperly used arcane pay rules to double or triple dip – collect two or three days of pay for a single day of work. The revelations led to wholesale changes in the wing's leadership.

Top generals, including former Adjutant General William H. Wade II, also double dipped federal and state pay. Wade was removed from association with the Guard following articles that detailed his actions. He is repaying the ill-gotten gains.

Hundreds of Army Guard members received improper incentive payments meant to enhance recruitment and retention. Fraudulent payments were in the tens of millions of dollars overall. An ongoing federal investigation of the affair has so far resulted in a retired benefits administrator being sentenced to prison. Three recruitment officers pleaded guilty and await sentencing.

Others officers were removed from the chain of command or from the Guard, and numerous other cases are still being evaluated by the California Guard and federal authorities.

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