Thousands of Free Trips Taken by Pentagon Staff

For Immediate Release

Thousands of Free Trips Taken by Pentagon Staff

DOD Personnel Took $26 Million in Travel From Industry, Foreign Governments

WASHINGTON - Despite
the Pentagon's hefty budget, Department of Defense personnel routinely
accept free flights, accommodations, and hospitality from private and
foreign interests which do business with the Pentagon, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of thousands of travel disclosure records.
From 1998 through 2007, the Center's year-long analysis found, outside
sources paid for more than 22,000 trips worth at least $26 million. The
travel was sponsored by an array of companies, foreign governments, and
other groups. 

These
free trips have become riddled with conflicts of interest and are in
need of stronger oversight and stiffer regulations, say watchdog
groups. "This is the kind of behavior that should be barred without a
loophole," says Winslow Wheeler of the nonprofit Center for Defense
Information.

The
Defense Department does not have electronic records of the travel
disclosure forms; the Center for Public Integrity is making a
searchable database available for the first time.

"Our
mission is to make hidden financial dealings public, and in that way
make institutional power more accountable," says the Center's Executive
Director Bill Buzenberg. "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." To that end, the Center's staff is
delivering copies of the report to every member of Congress this
morning.

The Pentagon travel records were originally submitted in paper form to the U.S. Office of Government Ethics. The documents were digitized and sorted in a joint project by the Center for Public Integrity and Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Using computer-assisted reporting techniques, Center staff then compiled the records and analyzed the trends.

 

Among the Center for Public Integrity's findings:

  • 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.

The stories, Thousands of Free Trips Taken by Pentagon Staff and Medical Industry Showers DOD with Free Travel, were written by Center staff writers M.B. Pell and Aaron Mehta.

Organizational support for this project was provided by Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ford Foundation, Greenlight Capital Employees, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Open Society Institute, the Park Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and other generous institutional and individual donors.

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The Center for Public Integrity is a nonprofit organization dedicated to producing original, responsible investigative journalism on issues of public concern. The Center is non-partisan and non-advocacy. We are committed to transparent and comprehensive reporting both in the United States and around the world.

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