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IG report criticizes former Wounded Warrior Care director

In this 2008 file photo by the Department of Defense Office of Warrior Care, Philip Burdette, left, then-director of the Pentagon's Wounded Warrior Care and Transition Policy Office, and John Medve, executive director for VA/DOD Collaboration Service, testify before Congress on coordinating care for wounded warriors and their families.

By WYATT OLSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 3, 2014

The former director of the Pentagon’s Wounded Warrior Care and Transition Policy Office bullied and verbally abused employees, calling some stupid and referring to others as idiots, liars and criminals behind their backs, according to an Inspector General’s investigation.

Philip A. Burdette — who left the position in March 2013 — also misused official time, rental vehicles, TDY schedules and expenses, and he improperly tried to use his influence on behalf of a subcontractor, according to the report, which was concluded in October 2013 but was not released until Monday, in redacted form.

The report recommended corrective action against Burdette. The Pentagon did not immediately respond to questions as to whether or what type of actions were taken in the year since the report was issued. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported last week that the Pentagon confirmed Burdette was transferred to the position of special adviser to the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, where he remains.

The IG’s office received six complaints from employees during a four-month period after Burdette became director in March 2011. He was responsible for oversight of policies related to wounded, ill and injured servicemembers.

Investigators asked 10 witnesses who worked closely with Burdette to provide any positive remarks regarding his leadership and actions with subordinates.

“Many stated he had no positive leadership characteristics,” the report noted.

One witness who did not work for Burdette said that the director managed his staff “primarily by mocking and punishing subordinates.”

The names of all witnesses were redacted from the report.

Eight witnesses described Burdette’s behavior — during which he would routinely yell and scream — as “unchecked” by his direct superior, John R. Campbell, deputy assistant secretary of defense for the wounded warrior office. Campbell announced he was leaving the position shortly after Burdette left in March 2013.

Campbell had taken a “laissez faire supervisory role” in regard to Burdette’s behavior, witnesses told the IG.

Campbell testified that Burdette “holds people accountable” and “gets the job done.”

But he also told investigators he’d had a conversation with Burdette regarding improvements needed on his leadership methods, suggesting he needed to be more patient and flexible with subordinates. Burdette testified that no such talk with Campbell had taken place.

According to the IG report, Burdette told investigators that his charge upon taking the director job had been to solve problems and that he “added discipline, accountability, and a sense of urgency to deliver results for wounded Service members and their families.”

He admitted that he was suspicious of workers, testifying, “I have no problem with looking at another professional and saying, ‘I think you are lying to me.’ ”

He said he would hang up the phone on workers if he considered the conversation unproductive and the subordinate was not listening to him.

In June 2011, Burdette had been scheduled to caddy at a charity golf tournament but instead used a contractor for the event, which the IG determined was outside the scope of the contractor’s duties. Burdette told investigators that Campbell chose the contractor for the tournament.

In another instance, the IG found that Burdette had created the appearance of a conflict of interest with a subcontractor and attempted to influence the contract for the benefit of the subcontractor, according to the report.

Burdette had actually recused himself from participating in areas where this subcontractor was involved, but he “did not abide by his own recusal and frequently inserted himself … in an attempt to benefit the subcontractor,” the report said.

In January 2012, Burdette flew to Fort Carson, Colo., as part of an effort by the Defense Department to improve processes related to wounded servicemembers. He did not bring a laptop for the weeklong junket, however, and investigators concluded that he “misused official time, misused a rental vehicle, improperly scheduled travel, misrepresented his time and attendance” and failed to use his government travel credit card as required for TDY expenses.

In a review of Burdette’s general attendance for work, the report concluded, “We found Mr. Burdette did not routinely work eight hours per duty day, yet he recorded eight hours duty for pay purposes.”

“Further, Mr. Campbell was unable to explain Mr. Burdette’s extensive Pentagon absences.”

olson.wyatt@stripes.com
Twitter: @WyattWOlson

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