Army defends battlefield social science program
By TOM VANDEN BROOK | USA Today | Published: March 28, 2013
WASHINGTON — Army Secretary John McHugh defended the use of military social scientists on battlefields despite some initial "command, training and personnel challenges" with the program in its early years.
McHugh sent a letter recently to Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., a member of the Armed Services Committee who had raised concerns with McHugh about the Human Terrain System after USA TODAY reported that an internal Army report had found team members falsified time sheets to inflate their pay and had engaged in racial and sexual harassment. The program, launched in 2007 with civilian social scientists, was aimed at helping commanders understand local populations and avoid antagonizing them.
Army internal reviews, including a 2010 report obtained by USA TODAY under the Freedom of Information Act were used to "increase oversight, improve personnel selection and enhance effectiveness," McHugh wrote to Hunter on March 15.
Hunter said he's not convinced the program, which cost the military $58 million in 2013, is worth the investment.
"The problem here is that the Army's take on things overlooks an investigation that raises some serious concerns and doesn't account for program shortcomings and criticisms," Hunter told USA TODAY.
One key concern raised by the Army report was the systematic submission of fraudulent time sheets by members of Human Terrain Teams. One team manager said in a sworn statement that team members conspired to have the manager fired for refusing "to bow to their wishes for unconstrained overtime and comp time hours."
The manager surveyed managers of other teams in Afghanistan and found some teams were filing for "extremely high number of hours for work performed on their Forward Operating base," so they were "getting only three or four hours off PER DAY, just sleep time, which I knew from personal experience would not stand up to common-sense scrutiny."
A 2010 memo to the deputy chief of staff for the Army's Training and Doctrine Command from the Army's investigating officer found overtime was "excessive" and determined that "168 hours per pay period (i.e. 84 hours per week, or 12 hours a day/7 days a week) is either the de facto standard or the desired standard of HTS leadership."
This standard, according to another memo, "approximates a salary of between $224,000 and $280,000 per year and allows an employee to take nearly six months of paid leave at the end of a 9-month tour." Military members of the teams earned 40% less and felt a "sense of inequity."
The Army says allegations of time sheet fraud have been investigated and were not proved.
Many of the problems were resolved when team members, who had been contractors, were converted to limited-term federal government employees in 2009, McHugh wrote. In 2010, leadership positions were staffed by government employees and soldiers.
"In spite of the administrative challenges, HTS has been a very successful program," McHugh wrote. "Commanders in combat units supported by HTS in Iraq and Afghanistan have indicated that HTS adds significant value to their operations."
The Army intends to maintain the human terrain teams to avoid a "cold start," McHugh wrote.
Soldiers, not government employees, should provide that capability, Hunter said. As the military faces the need to cut $46 billion from its budget by the end of September, programs such as Human Terrain System need more scrutiny, he said.
"Even if HTS was 100% effective, which we know it's not, does it make sense to spend money, regardless of how much or how little, on something like this when training and operations are being cut back because of funding?" Hunter said.