Former California National Guard chief's dual pay to be probed

A top NATO general who formerly led the California National Guard enhanced his salary during his state tenure by collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in dual pay, a Bee investigation has found.

As adjutant general of the Guard, Maj. Gen. William H. Wade II earned an annual state salary of more than $200,000. Wade, now a deputy chief of staff for NATO's Joint Forces Command in Italy, on average claimed $50,000 extra in federal pay each year. It raised his total earnings above $1 million during his 4 1/2-year California tenure that ended in 2010 – far more than any elected state official, including the governor's salary.

For the more than 550 federal workdays during his tenure as state Guard commander, Wade attended to duties such as meetings, training and visits to troops. Sometimes he was paid by both the state and federal governments for the same days of work within legal dual-pay limits. Over his full term in office, he got nearly $90,000 in state pay for such permitted federal workdays.

But a review of pay records found that Wade also received nearly $155,000 in state pay for federal workdays in excess of dual pay limits recognized by the California Department of Personnel Administration and current Guard leadership. Records show Wade took 210 dual paydays above those limits, on average, nearly one double-dip workweek – paid by both the state and federal governments – beyond legal limits every month.

A NATO spokesman said that the organization would have no comment, and that Wade declined to comment, instead referring The Bee's written questions to the Guard.

After The Bee asked about pay issues for Wade and other generals, the Guard's newly appointed adjutant general, Col. David Baldwin, launched an internal inquiry and referred the matter to the U.S. Army Inspector General Agency, the Department of Defense and the National Guard Bureau – the federal agency that oversees federal funding and policy for the Guard. He requested that an out-of-state general conduct "a full, detailed fiscal accounting of this matter."

"If people owe money back to the government, we'll collect that money," said Baldwin, who was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown on April 9. "If people deliberately took the money, then we'll take the appropriate action."

State Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, expressed concern about the Guard's oversight process, anticipating the committee's planned May 10 hearing about Guard pay issues.

"The commander of our California National Guard is expected to lead by example, not enrich himself personally by violating state law," said Lieu, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force reserve. "It is beyond unacceptable and unethical that an adjutant general would act as if the state law limits on double payments applied to everyone in the National Guard except him."

Baldwin ordered an assessment to ensure that controls are in place to prevent incorrect payments in the future.

Pay records obtained by The Bee under the California Public Records Act and the U.S. Freedom of Information Act show that in more than 100 instances, at least seven other generals improperly took two days' pay for one day's work, adding up to total payments exceeding $50,000. They regularly were paid for federal duty without correctly reporting it on their time sheets, resulting in unauthorized dual paydays.

Two generals responded to questions about the records. They said they broke no rules but did not provide details to refute the pay records. Errors could have been caused by careless record keeping by the generals or payroll departments. However, Wade's records show regular double dipping beyond recognized legal limits.

Generals sacrifice much and deserve all legitimate benefits, said George Reed, a professor of leadership studies at the University of San Diego who served 27 years in the Army and taught at the U.S. Army War College. He said loyalty and performance depend on confidence in top leaders' integrity.

Generals "are given extraordinary trust. With that comes extraordinary responsibility," he said. If they "game the system" for personal gain, Reed added, "that's a breach of faith."

Wade's special case

State law permits 30 dual-paydays per year, a gesture by grateful lawmakers to reward full-time Guard members and other state employees who perform federal military service.

Wade's double dipping went so far beyond that statutory limit that taxpayers will foot the bill for years to come in the form of Wade's federal retirement benefits. According to his retirement profile, obtained by The Bee, and projections from the U.S. Army's retirement website, during his service as adjutant general Wade increased his federal pension by hundreds of dollars a month for life.

Unlike every other Guard employee, including his successors as adjutant general, Wade never filled out a time sheet. According to Guard spokesman Maj. Thomas Keegan, Wade said at the time that as an appointee of the governor, he was not obliged to record his work schedule. That left the Guard's personnel office with no simple way of monitoring how many days he was working for the federal government.

Even if they had been able to scrutinize his schedule, it might not have affected Wade's approach. Wade also believed he was entitled to unlimited paid leave from the state, during which he could also collect federal pay, Keegan said.

Baldwin and other top Guard officers weren't so sure.

Their concerns were reinforced in early 2009 after officials in the Texas National Guard were found to be double dipping. Three top leaders, including the adjutant general, received about $200,000 by improperly collecting federal and state pay on the same workdays. They were fired, and Texas officials recouped funds from one general and are pursuing the others.

Baldwin, who became chief of the joint staff at the California Guard in April 2009, said Wade told top officers that his personal staff would talk to the state Department of Personnel Administration to clarify rules on double dipping.

The subject arose again in August 2009, when federal officials asked the Guard for state pay data, to determine if improper dual-pay violations had occurred, as they had in Texas. Internal emails show that Baldwin rejected the request on behalf of the Guard.

"We bristled," he told The Bee, because "we are very protective of our state status and our state sovereignty." He said the Guard saw the request as an undue federal intrusion, and the Guard itself had been planning its own review of the matter.

Keegan said he understands that during the summer of 2009 Guard officials tried to resolve the matter with the Department of Personnel Administration, but the discussions were not conclusive, and no formal legal opinion was obtained.

But according to spokeswoman Lynelle Jolley, no Guard official contacted the department until this year, long after Wade's departure and after The Bee requested pay data for Guard generals.

Last month, the department gave its opinion: No more than 30 days of double pay for military leave can be collected annually. Whether the state will try to recoup funds paid to Wade beyond that limit remains unclear, but Baldwin said he would adhere strictly to the ruling.

"Starting today, I'm filling out a time and attendance sheet, just like everyone else," Baldwin told The Bee on April 15, the day he assumed his post. "I am under the exact same restrictions as every other soldier and airman that serves our state in full-time status."

Lucrative system

The generals who appear to have gotten improper pay enjoyed the special full-time status Baldwin was referring to as part of the Guard's "state active duty" program. (The adjutant general occupies a unique niche outside the state active duty system, with augmented benefits.)

Those employees differ from the vast majority of California's 21,000 Guard members – "citizen soldiers" who drill one weekend a month and two weeks during the summer. Otherwise, unless called up for emergency duty or military deployment, they live as private citizens.

Roughly 600 state active duty employees serve as a cadre of full-time military leaders, administrators and clerks to manage many of the Guard's daily operations. They enjoy benefits – including tax-free subsidies for food and housing that for some high officers come to an extra $40,000 per year – characterized as excessive in long-standing public criticism.

For years in press reports critics have pejoratively referred to Guard headquarters near Rancho Cordova as "the bird sanctuary," after its highly paid state active duty colonels, whose eagle emblem designates their rank.

Such officers get a combination of relatively high salaries and military entitlements that make state active duty jobs far costlier to taxpayers than civilian roles with comparable responsibilities in the Guard and other agencies.

Of the Guard's 142 commissioned officers serving on fulltime duty last year, 73 earned more than $100,000. Eight sergeants also topped $100,000. Fourteen of the Guard's highest earners made more than $150,000.

Those figures don't count special pay during fire emergencies, when some state active duty soldiers earn thousands of dollars above their normal income. In theory, this sets their pay to the same level as civilians working at similar fire jobs. Baldwin pledged to evaluate whether that extra pay is warranted, and if he concludes that it's an unjustified perk, it will be eliminated.

Nor do the salaries include the 30 days a year of full pay for federal duty, during which the soldiers also collect full state pay.

When Wade took command of the Guard, he vowed to pare back state active duty employment to save money. Instead, the number of such jobs has risen by more than one-third since 2006.

Baldwin attributed some of that growth to new responsibilities for the Guard, such as homeland security tasks that require military skills. Full-time soldiers are also essential to mobilize forces to tackle wildfires and other emergencies, which he said are much more common in California than any other state.

Every time a state active duty job is vacated the Guard will reassess the slot. When possible, Baldwin said, the military job will be converted to a less costly civilian job.

Still, most other large states manage with just a handful of such military employees, and pay them far less than California. For example, New York's Department of Military and Naval Affairs has just two, including the adjutant general – who earned $120,800 last year, with no food and housing entitlements. New York's other 250 military employees are temporary and earn no benefits.

Retired Col. William Hatch, a former Guard leader, said a drastic reduction in state active duty payroll – overall, more than $40 million last year – could free up urgently needed funds to train soldiers and rehabilitate Camp Roberts, the Guard's long-neglected chief training site whose dangerously degraded buildings and utilities resemble a giant reclamation project.

Generous state active duty benefits seem like relics of a long-ago age of prosperity, said Hatch, who acknowledged that he benefited from that system for 11 years. It functions, he said, like a lucrative club for the lucky few. "It's time to take a look at the whole state active duty system," Hatch said, "and scale it back."

Wade's noncombat career

State active duty benefits were established by lawmakers as compensation for Guard members' sacrifices.

Wade's term as adjutant general was marked by some of the greatest sacrifices and contributions in Guard history. He presided over deployment of at least 7,800 Guard members called up to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan. Four of those were killed in action.

Yet, during his 41-year career, Wade has never deployed to a combat zone. Among the other seven generals for whom records show questionable payments, only two have served in combat, and both have since retired.

Baldwin praised all of the generals for honorable and loyal service. He said a lack of combat experience might simply mean that the military needed them elsewhere, and in any case, some noncombat assignments also pose risks.

But after a decade of constant war, some in the Guard are beginning to demand more from generals.

"Especially since 9/11, people have started to think differently about who should lead the Guard," said Hatch, who said he served in the first Gulf War. "That it should be someone who had combat time, not somebody who stayed out, and stayed safe."

Baldwin called his two tours of duty in Afghanistan "life changing."

"I feel more comfortable sending those soldiers off into combat," he said, "because I'm not asking them to do anything that I haven't done myself."

Several of Baldwin's new appointees to command jobs are "combat seasoned" – lending them credibility to help him address a litany of challenges, he said.

Those challenges include the repair of Camp Roberts. The neglect of that training base was exposed last month by The Bee as part of a series of investigations that began last October.

Another article described up to $100 million in what federal auditors called illegal or improper incentive payments to hundreds of Guard members, including many officers. That case is under criminal investigation by four federal agencies, including the FBI.

A separate criminal probe has targeted allegedly illegal pay to top pilots in the Guard's Fresno-based 144th Fighter Wing.

Wade's pay issues are not known to be a subject of the criminal investigations.

The lapses involving incentive payments, pilots and Camp Roberts have cast doubt on the integrity of a number of Guard commanders. Some of them have been removed from command jobs or otherwise disciplined by Baldwin or his predecessor.

Each situation worsened on Wade's watch.

Reed, the leadership expert, said doubts about commanders often reverberate through the ranks, leading to complacency or corruption at other levels.

"In setting an ethical climate," he said, "there are few ingredients more important than the example set by the leadership."