Report: Industry, foreign interests showered DoD personnel with free trips

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The Center For Public Integrity recently completed a year-long analysis of thousands of travel disclosure records and found Department of Defense personnel regularly accepted free flights, accommodations, and hospitality from private and foreign interests that conduct business with the Pentagon.

From 1998 to 2007, outside sources paid for 22,000 trips worth at least $26 million. The trips, sponsored by numerous companies and foreign governments, are “riddled with conflicts of interests,” watchdog groups argue, and “are in need of stronger oversight and stiffer regulations.”

“This is the kind of behavior that should be barred without a loophole,” Winslow Wheeler of the nonprofit Center for Defense Information said in a press release.

The Pentagon initially submitted the records in paper form to the U.S. Office of Government Ethics. The Center For Public Integrity and the Medill School of Journalism worked together to sort and digitize the records and examine them for trends. Findings include:

 

  • The medical industry paid for more travel than any other single interest – over $10 million for some 8,700 trips, or about 40 percent of all outside sponsored travel. Among the targets: military pharmacists, doctors, and others who administer the Pentagon’s $6 billion-plus annual budget for prescription drugs.
  • Foreign governments paid more than $2.6 million for 1,500 trips. The biggest sponsors: U.S. allies Australia, Singapore, and Japan, but the list also includes China, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates.
  • Manufacturers of retail goods paid for more than 500 trips, at a cost of about $470,000. Their targets included buyers at on-base retail outlets, which sold more than $12 billion of merchandise in 2007. Among the sponsors: Nike, Skechers, Mattel, and Sony.
  • Thousands of the trips took place to popular vacation spots such as San Diego, Las Vegas, Honolulu, San Remo and Venice, Italy, and Jeju Island, South Korea. Among the guests were spouses, who participated in at least 240 of the trips.

“Our mission is to make hidden financial dealings public, and in that way make institutional power more accountable,” the Center’s Executive Director Bill Buzenberg said. “The Pentagon Travel project, like the Center’s groundbreaking work on lobbyist-paid Congressional travel, provides government transparency that is sorely needed when billions of taxpayer dollars are at stake.”

The Center began distributing copies of its report Wednesday to every member of Congress. Read “Thousands of Free Trips Taken By Pentagon Staff” here and “Medical Industry Showers DOD with Free Travel” here.

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