Stripes part of America Supports You audit
Newspaper’s funds used for DOD’s public relations program under review by IG
By JEFF SCHOGOL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 20, 2007
View the July 2006 documents here.
ARLINGTON, Va. — The Defense Department Inspector General’s Office has widened its review of America Supports You to include Stars and Stripes, Defense officials said.
In May, The New York Times reported the inspector general was looking into whether America Supports You moved money improperly.
Since then, the review has prompted two audits, one of which is looking into American Forces Information Service and the office of the assistant secretary of Defense for public affairs, “[t]o determine whether management has established proper segregation of duties and effective internal controls”; the other is looking at how America Supports You is accomplishing its mission, according to two letters from the inspector general’s office.
Founded in 2004, America Supports You is a DOD program that gives publicity to nonprofit groups that support U.S. troops. Both America Supports You and American Forces Information Service — the parent organization for Stripes — are headed by Allison Barber, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for public affairs.
Part of the review involves looking at expenditures from Stars and Stripes for America Supports You, said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman.
Whitman declined to discuss specifics, nor would he release information on any Stars and Stripes expenditures connected to America Supports You because the matter is under review.
But documents obtained Friday show that Stars and Stripes awarded a $499,000 purchase agreement in July 2006 for a public relations firm to represent America Supports You.
“Stars and Stripes (S&S) requires assistance in planning ongoing national and international multimedia event campaigns and related work products for promotion its efforts to support the forces deployed including the collateral involvements with the Office of the Secretary Defense America Supports You Program,” the agreement states.
One of the tasks the document outlines for Susan Davis International is to develop “[m]edia strategy, message and outreach for communications nationwide in markets and in overseas areas of military deployments and operations.”
It also calls for “innovative campaign elements” to link Americans at home with deployed servicemembers.
“This incorporates the requirement for innovating big picture visibility with coverage and communications to troops via internal DoD media vehicles, S&S newspaper, plus greater S&S and America Supports You campaign visibility and penetration via grass- roots regional events stateside and salute events in forward-deployed areas of operation,” the document reads.
Stars and Stripes’ top editors said Friday that they were trying to determine why the newspaper was involved with America Support You’s media strategy.
“This causes extreme concern among the editorial staff, and could cause readers to question our objectivity as an editorially independent newspaper — an unacceptable situation,” Executive Editor Robb Grindstaff and Managing Editor Doug Clawson said in a joint statement Friday.
The two also said Stripes editors and reporters were not involved with America Support You’s public relations effort, and they will conduct a review of all the paper’s stories written about America Supports You.
“We were aware of some interaction between S&S marketing department and ASY, but were appalled to learn the degree of involvement and the use of Stripes finances to fund the Pentagon’s public relations campaign,” they said.
The editors said they are reviewing further documents and information on this matter and will “continue to follow the story.”
Stripes’ involvement with America Supports You predates the documents obtained Friday.
Steven Wade, a former contracting officer for Stars and Stripes, said he awarded about $100,000 in contracts for America Supports You a few years ago. Wade said the money went to buy dog tags and arm bands.
“They initially asked me to do some big thing, but that was way over my limit, man,” Wade said after being contacted by the paper.
Wade said he awarded the contracts at the behest of Barber, who went through Tom Kelsch and Max Lederer, then Stripes publisher and chief operating officer, respectively. Kelsch left the newspaper in September and was replaced by Lederer as acting publisher.
Barber, Kelsch and Lederer declined to comment or deferred to Whitman.
Whitman stressed that Stars and Stripes is fully reimbursed for any expenditures it makes for America Supports You, including registering the domain name for the America Supports You Freedom Walk Web site.
“The people involved in this don’t believe that they’ve done anything that is improper, but because this is a program that has to be absolutely transparent, above boards and beyond reproach, is why the assistant secretary asked the IG to take a look at it because he wants any public affairs program to be held to the highest standard,” Whitman said.