Pentagon Going Full-Speed Ahead to Improve Ethics

On Sunday, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey promised a new campaign to restore ethics after some recent lapses. On Sunday, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey promised a new campaign to restore ethics after some recent lapses. Defense Department file photo

The two top Defense officials have made ethics reform a “No. 1 priority” across military services, lines and commands.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Friday that he would soon appoint a new Pentagon senior ethics officer to report directly to him because “an uncompromising culture of accountability must exist at every level of command.”

On Sunday, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey promised a new campaign to restore ethics after some recent lapses—examples of which include recent news reports that Air Force intercontinental ballistic missile launch officers were arrested for narcotics possession in Montana and that Navy trainers were implicated for cheating on tests at the Navy Nuclear Propulsion School in Charleston, S.C.

“Competence and character are not mutually exclusive,” Hagel told reporters. “They are woven together – they must be.” Asked whether the apparent rise in ethical lapses was related to the past decade’s wartime pressures, Hagel said, “Was it a constant focus of 12 years on two long land wars, taking our emphasis off some of these other areas? I don't know. We intend to find out.”

Dempsey said, “This challenge didn’t accumulate overnight, and it won’t be solved overnight…. Acts of crime, misconduct, ethical breaches, command climate and stupidity each require a distinct solution,” he said. “But the overall solution is attention to who we are as a profession. And that’s my focus.”

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Dempsey continued, did not cause the ethical lapses. “It is the pace, and our failure to understand that at that pace, we were neglecting the tools that manage us as a profession over time.”

The new ethics officer is expected to make ethics a top agenda item at weekly meetings of service secretaries and service chiefs, a Pentagon spokesman said. A group co-chaired by officials from the Joint Staff and the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy plans to submit a report to Hagel within 60 days, perhaps earlier.

Asked to comment, Air Force Association spokesman Chet Curtis told Government Executive, “Our airmen are entrusted with the most powerful weapons in our nation's arsenal and as such, should uphold the highest standards of integrity and accountability. We think this is a positive step in the right direction.” 

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