Bill seeks independent watchdog of California National Guard

Two state senators have introduced legislation to create an independent inspector general to oversee the California Military Department, the state agency that includes the National Guard.

Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, co-author of the bill, said the legislation was prompted by a recent series of investigative reports in The Bee that exposed financial and management lapses at the Guard.

Federal criminal investigators are examining allegations of widespread fraud by Guard members. The probes involve apparently illegal incentive payments to hundreds of soldiers, including many officers, and evidence of improper dual paydays for Guard pilots.

The department has an inspector general who reports to the adjutant general, the Guard's top officer. Under the proposed legislation, the inspector general would be appointed by the governor, subject to Senate confirmation, and would report to the governor.

That officer would be empowered to investigate allegations of misconduct by any Guard member, including the adjutant general, and complaints of retaliation by whistle-blowers who allege improper or illegal actions within the Guard. Making the post independent of the Guard's hierarchy, Lieu said, would help ensure objectivity.

"We want to make sure the systemic problems that have plagued the California National Guard do not recur," he said.

An urgency clause will be added to the bill, to allow timely implementation if passed into law. It was co-authored by Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, who chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. The committee plans to discuss Guard oversight issues during a Capitol hearing May 10.

Brig. Gen. David Baldwin, appointed adjutant general by Gov. Jerry Brown on April 9 and promoted to general on Monday, declined to comment about the bill.

Similar legislation passed the Assembly in 2006 but ultimately foundered in the Senate.

The failed bill's author, former Assemblyman Tom Umberg, said it was meant to address a range of reported problems in the Guard, including "salary double dipping."

The Bee reported on Sunday that Maj. Gen. William H. Wade II, who led the Guard from late 2005 through early 2010, boosted his salary by working hundreds of days on federal duty while being paid by both the federal and state governments. About $155,000 of his state income was beyond the statutory limits for dual pay. The Guard has referred the matter to federal military authorities for review.

Umberg said that his bill was amended at Wade's request.

"Gen. Wade personally told me he would support the bill," Umberg said. "Ultimately, he withdrew his support and the bill died in the Senate even though it had been unanimously supported (by Senate committee members) up until that time."

If an inspector general outside of the Guard chain of command had been available during Wade's tenure, Lieu said, the former leader's dual-pay issues might have been mitigated.

Wade, currently deputy chief of staff for NATO's Joint Forces Command in Italy, declined to comment.

"This one law isn't going to change the entire culture," Lieu said, "but it's a step in the right direction."

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