IGs discuss challenges, changes during meeting
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Some military inspectors across Europe have watched their caseloads steadily increase in the past couple of years as Inspector General offices have tried to shed their “white-glove inspection” perception.
Top military inspectors at a conference held last week said they are doing a better job marketing how they can help commands, but they admit they are battling the long-held stigma they are out to “hammer” people.
Lt. Col. David Cienski, chief of inspections for the U.S. European Command Inspector General, said the job has changed and they’re trying to get the word out to people. Inspectors have moved farther away from compliance inspections and are instead serving like “smoke detectors” for commanders, pointing out problems before they do too much damage.
“We’re trying to be a little more proactive in searching out problems,” said Cienski. “We want to show we are agents of change.”
About 40 inspectors from commands in Europe, Africa and the Middle East met to network and talk about the challenges they face. Some of the topics discussed were dwindling staffs, low budgets, support of the new Africa Command and outreach efforts with allies such as Bulgaria and Romania.
Although populations on military bases in Europe have decreased due to restructuring over the last three years, some Inspector General offices are seeing a surprising increase in caseloads.
For example, the European Command Inspector General’s office is on pace to nearly triple the number of assistance cases in fiscal 2008 compared with two years ago, according to briefing slides at the conference. Inspectors predict their caseload will reach nearly 300, up from just 110 two fiscal years ago. The Navy’s top command in Europe has seen a jump in the number of allegations, from nearly 30 in 2005 to almost 80 last year. While U.S. Air Forces in Europe’s Inspector General’s office reported it has assisted in fewer cases last year compared to 2006, inspectors have referred more cases and saw a slight increase in the number of investigations.
Inspectors attribute the increase to better marketing, or what was called “hanging the flypaper.”
The Inspector General’s office in the military serves as the ombudsman for the base community, focusing on resolving complaints about such things as fraud and abusive leadership in addition to evaluating the effectiveness of programs. At last week’s conference, briefing slides carried the motto: “Here to help the team.”
But that has not always been an easy sell, some inspectors said. Some commands have looked at the inspectors more like adversaries than helpers.
Inspectors have gone beyond exposing fraud, waste and abuse by dispersing hundreds of surveys to gauge morale, quality of leadership and quality of life.
Maj. Karlotta Richards, a clinical psychologist who serves as the inspector general for the 30th Medical Brigade in Heidelberg, said being the “bearer of bad news” can be difficult, but it is important information for commanders so they make the right decisions.
“I think it’s changing because of our approach is different,” Richards said. “We’re not here to hammer you. We want to empower you.”
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Eric Smith, an E-3 pilot serving as the inspector general for servicemembers in the Horn of Africa, said some people continue to believe differently. The key, he said, is to continue to get out and meet people and let them know what the IG does.
“It’s changing,” Smith said. “But we’re still not quite there yet.”
Allegations of neglect last year by patients at Walter Reed Army Medical serve as a cautionary tale and show what can happen if people are afraid to come forward.
Inspectors went to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center on Wednesday to take a look at how wounded soldiers are being treated. Army Col. Michael Anderson, U.S. European Command’s inspector general, said he believed inspectors would go back and tell their commanders that their wounded men and women are being treated well at the hospital. But if that wasn’t the case, he said inspectors should be honest with their commanders.
“We should be courageous enough to tell them when something is wrong,” he said.
Abuse, fraud are among cases discussedA visit by the Inspector General’s office often has been greeted with the same enthusiasm as root canal surgery without the Novocain.
The old joke in the military is the only person who wants to talk to an inspector general is another inspector general.
Actually, some commanders might prefer enduring a painful surgery over what inspectors have uncovered. Some of the top complaints inspectors have investigated were discussed at the second annual Inspector General conference at Ramstein Air Base. A look at some of the top cases:
Fraud cases involving senior officers filing false travel claims and leave paperwork. Inspectors investigated one senior Army officer who falsified a travel claim, billing a bed and breakfast that did not exist.Abuse of authority by senior leaders. One general officer ordered a subordinate to comb his Persian rug. Others have ordered aides to perform such duties as picking up clothes at the dry cleaners.Inappropriate sexual relationships between leaders and subordinates. Inspectors have investigated allegations of adultery committed by members of the command with co-workers and subordinates. Adultery is a crime in the military.Sexual harassment cases against leadership. Some lower-ranking servicemembers have used unsubstantiated allegations of sexual harassment to extort leaders.In addition to chasing down and following up on complaints lodged within commands, inspectors are using “climate” surveys to measure morale and the quality of leadership, said Lt. Col. David Cienski, chief of inspection for the U.S. European Command Inspector General.
IG hotlineThose with complaints are encouraged to contact the U.S. European Command Inspector General by phone or e-mail.
Call DSN 430-5556 or go to www.eucom.mil and click on “IG Hotline.”