Senator calls for disciplinary action over ASY funding
By JEFF SCHOGOL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 17, 2009
ARLINGTON, Va. — A leading Democratic lawmaker has called for disciplinary action for Defense Department personnel involved with the America Supports You program.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., sent a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Tuesday blasting department officials for their "inept, if not corrupt" management of the program.
"There was a substantial waste of government funds, gross lack of oversight, demonstration of questionable ethics, and a total disregard of procedural rules in this case," according to the letter, which was provided to Stars and Stripes by McCaskill’s office.
America Supports You was meant to give publicity to nonprofit groups that help U.S. troops, but the Defense Department Office of the Inspector General recently issued a report that found it was mostly focused on promoting itself.
The report criticized defense officials for "inappropriately" transferring $9.2 million to Stars and Stripes to finance the program. It also faulted Stripes officials for their roles in the money transfers and for being unable to account for $4.1 million intended for America Supports You expenses.
Issues identified in the audit were referred to investigators for review as potential senior official misconduct, the report said.
No decision has been made whether to launch a preliminary investigation into how Stripes and its former parent organization — Armed Forces Information Service — handled money for America Supports You, department spokesman Cmdr. Darryn James said.
McCaskill urged that "accountability be meted out" to those responsible for the failings outlined in the inspector general’s office report.
"It is clear to me that there are grounds for official discipline of senior and less-senior officials alike for their malfeasance in handling this program, and I urge you to robustly pursue this matter," she wrote.
Allison Barber, the former head of AFIS and founder of America Supports You, defended the program.
"I would be happy to meet with the senator to explain the impact of America Supports You — the thousands of troops who were helped, the veterans who were prevented from homelessness, the wounded who received immediate assistance," she said.
McCaskill also had harsh words for Susan Davis International, the contractor that received $8.8 million to promote America Supports You, and said officials there should be forced to reimburse all "misspent taxpayer dollars."
The inspector general’s report found that Susan Davis was reimbursed more than once for the same charges and reimbursed for expenses that were not allowable, such as alcoholic drinks and tips.
Tom Davis, vice president of Susan Davis International, called the inspector general’s office’s findings "unfounded" and said the company’s auditors found only $10,000 in mistaken billing over four years, all of which was repaid.
"We followed government orders, all billable hours were approved by the contracts office and were at our normal [Government Services Administration] approved rates, and all expenses were preapproved," Davis said Friday.
"We’d be happy to put our record of service and support of the military and their families up against anyone."
Read Sen. McCaskill's letter here.