“A key Army commander in the U.S. war against the Islamic State has been reprimanded by the Pentagon for steering a defense contract to a firm run by two of his former classmates at West Point.
Maj. Gen. Dana J.H. Pittard, who as the Army’s deputy commander for operations in the Middle East oversaw the training of Iraqi forces, was formally reprimanded in February after a three-year investigation by the Army’s inspector general
“Senior leaders must be acutely aware of the pitfalls of associating with government contractors,” wrote Gen. Daniel B. Allyn, the Army’s vice chief of staff.
The U.S. military has been tarred by a series of ethical breaches committed by generals and admirals in recent years. Although Pentagon officials have vowed to crack down, the armed forces often seek to keep such cases out of the limelight to protect the reputations of their top brass.
Similarly, the Navy has withheld details of misconduct committed by admirals in a corruption and bribery scandal involving an Asian defense contractor. In February, the Navy announced that it had censured three admirals, but it has refused to release public records documenting their actions or to identify other officers who have been subjected to administrative action.
Pittard is a decorated combat veteran who served multiple tours in Iraq. As a military aide to President Bill Clinton, he was entrusted with the “nuclear football,” the briefcase containing codes for launching a nuclear attack.
In 2012, he made headlines for a blog post in which he lambasted soldiers who commit suicide, calling it “an absolutely selfish act.” He later apologized, saying he had been frustrated by the recent suicides of two soldiers under his command.
A native of El Paso, Pittard returned home in July 2010 to take one of the Army’s plum assignments: commander of Fort Bliss, which covers a territory bigger than Rhode Island and has about 30,000 active-duty soldiers.
Prior to his arrival, Fort Bliss had drawn scrutiny from federal investigators for contracting irregularities. Pittard pledged to clean up what he called “low-level corruption” in the contracting office.
“We’ve got to make sure there is no cronyism. There are some gross examples of where we have paid way too much for certain things,” he said in a December 2010 interview with El Paso Inc., a business newspaper. “. . . The idea of the ‘sweet deal’ that bordered on cronyism, we are just not going to put up with it anymore.”
Within a few months, however, several members of Pittard’s staff grew concerned about his handling of a short-term contract to help manage the giant energy-efficiency project, according to a report by the Army’s inspector general.
Several Army officers, including Pittard’s staff lawyer, told investigators that the general went to unusual lengths to push a no-bid contract for a joint venture run by two of his former classmates from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Staffers said Pittard overrode their objections about the contract, including the lack of competitive bids. They said he met in private with his classmates before they were awarded the deal and intervened afterward to make sure they were paid.
“This is not good and downright illegal. These guys know it, and they continue to push the envelope because of their personal relationship with MG Pittard,” one unnamed colonel on the general’s staff wrote in a 2012 e-mail.”