A military-recruitment program gone awry may have cost U.S. taxpayers as much as $50 million, Army and National Guard officials confirmed Tuesday in a hearing before a Senate panel chaired by U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill.
Still, several of those testifying defended the program as being highly effective in increasing the number of troops during the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan deployments from 2006-2008. The program began in 2005 and ended in 2012, when problems were detected.
McCaskill, D-Mo., said she was concerned that no one has been convicted so far, although hundreds of members of the military – going as high as a general – have been identified as possible culprits in a scheme that provided some with six-figure bonuses for recruiting.
“It’s going to break my heart if people get away with this,’’ McCaskill said at the beginning of a two-hour hearing by the subcommittee on financial and contracting oversight.
Before the hearing, she told USA Today that that program has touched off “one of the largest criminal investigations in the history of the Army."
She faulted lack of “effective controls,’’ although some of those testifying disputed that characterization.
During the hearing, McCaskill cited investigations that have determined that much of the fraud was the result of recruiting officers and others obtaining bonuses for new troops who were going to sign up anyway. She maintained that the misdeeds could have been discovered earlier if the recruits had been required to identify who had recruited them.
“That’s why I’m frustrated because many of these controls were never put into place,’’ said McCaskill, who asked most of the questions during the hearing.
According to McCaskill’s staff, 555 active investigations involving 840 people are currently underway. Major Gen. David Quantock, the top officer overseeing the probe, said the military has targeted close to a quarter of the $400 million spent on the recruiting program. Current estimates are that roughly $50 million may have been misspent via the improper bonuses, he testified.
In a handful of cases, some in the military netted accumulated bonuses of $100,000 or more.
Still, some of those testifying said the program did do its job of beefing up the military at a time when regular recruiting methods were running far short.
McCaskill said she recognized that most of the military involved in recruitment behaved ethically, but she said the misdeeds by several hundred military officers -- even if a minority -- "have done great disservice to the men and women they lead."