America Scams You: Allison Barber's Many "No-No's"

There's a telling email exchange quoted in the Defense Department
Inspector General's report on America Supports You (ASY), a Pentagon
program launched in 2004, ostensibly to boost troop morale.

Allison Barber, who founded and led ASY until her
recent resignation as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for
Internal Communications and Public Liaison (and who infamously helped
President Bush stage a teleconference with troops in Iraq), asked in a
June 2004 email: "Overseas, we make troops [not living on military
bases] buy a digital receiver for their televisions so they can see
AFRTS," the American Forces Radio and Television Service. "Is there a
way for me to make this situation know [sic] to corporate America and
offer them the option of 'sponsoring' a receiver? So the receiver might
have a sticker on it that says 'brought to you by Sears'."

An attorney with the Defense Department's Standards
of Conduct Office responded sharply: "Of course, you may not solicit
anyone, especially corporate America, to sponsor the receivers. That's
a no-no."

Judging by the Inspector General's report -- which
was 18 months in the making -- Allison Barber was responsible for quite
a lot of "no-no's." Among the report's major findings are that ASY was
run in a "questionable and unregulated manner ... not consistent with
the program's primary objective"; that Susan Davis International, the
PR firm that was paid $8.8 million "to promote or 'brand' the ASY
program," used taxpayer money inappropriately; that $9.2 million in ASY
funding was funneled through the military newspaper Stars and Stripes,
against Pentagon rules and with such inadequate oversight that
officials "lost visibility of about $4.1 million"; and that a private
non-profit established under the ASY name "creat[es] confusion" between
it and the Defense Department program, implying government endorsement
and "presenting additional liability for any misuse of donations" by
the private group.

It's a surprisingly strong report. Maybe that's why
the Inspector General's office released it late on December 12, a
Friday -- a notoriously difficult time of the week to attract media

Too cozy with corporations

Department policies clearly forbid asking for donations, as well as
implicitly or explicitly endorsing non-government entities. To avoid
potential conflicts of interest and undue outside influence on the
nation's military, U.S. law specifically directs how gift funds may be
used to benefit service members. Pentagon lawyers periodically reminded
Allison Barber of these restrictions, but she seemed not to understand
or care that she was breaking the rules.

In a September 2005 email quoted in the Inspector
General's report, Barber asked if she could accept a "token check" from
the PGA Tour at one of their events. The Tour "had raised over
[$]300,000 for the military charities," Barber wrote. "[I]sn't that

The response she received was less than
enthusiastic. Department of Defense (DoD) officials "could not endorse
the PGA or solicit funds," cautioned the Standards of Conduct Office
attorney. Instead of accepting the check, the lawyer suggested that
Barber "thank the PGA and stand on the perimeter of the presentation of
the bogus check to a representative of the military relief societies."
Then the lawyer asked, "Is this event appropriate for DoD to
participate in? Is it a fundraiser?"

It's clear from the Inspector General's report that
ASY poured significant time and resources into seeking corporate
support. Several examples of Barber eagerly courting companies can also
be found in the Pentagon pundit documents, as I reported previously:

In an April
2006 email referring to an upcoming event with some 50 members of the
Business Council, Barber excitedly wrote to fellow Pentagon public
affairs staffer Dallas Lawrence that "we could have our entire
corporate outreach for asy [sic] done in one meeting!" ... The agenda
for a June 2006 Pentagon meeting with the National Association of
Manufacturers lists Barber as giving the "welcome and America Supports
You update." ASY is the only program mentioned by name. Other documents
name NASCAR, Ringling Brothers and Babies "R" Us as ASY corporate

ASY's emphasis on corporate outreach happened by
design. Susan Davis International (SDI), the private firm that did
public relations work for ASY, developed a "corporate toolkit" to
recruit companies. "The toolkit makes many promises of publicity for
corporations in return for their support of the ASY program," notes the
Inspector General's report. As described in ASY's "corporate toolkit,"
these quid pro quo offers included features on the American Forces
Radio and Television Service and the Pentagon Channel, ads in the Stars
and Stripes newspaper, and mentions in ASY's "weekly e-newsletter ...
delivered to thousands of key supporters nationwide, to Congress, and
to the news media."

In addition, the America Supports You website
featured the logos of its corporate supporters, in violation of Defense
Department policies. (That page has since been removed from the ASY
site, but an archived version can be seen here:

Lastly, ASY gave "Office of the Secretary of
Defense Exceptional Public Service Awards" to individual and corporate
ASY supporters. SDI suggested giving the awards, to create hooks for
"op-eds, regional media, newsletters, member radio / TV shows." The
Inspector General's report questions this "recognition program," noting
that "there are no written criteria for selecting the recipients of
this award." In other words, public honors could be given out to the
highest bidders.

Public relations problems

public relations firm, Susan Davis International, received a whopping
$8.8 million of the $9.2 million in ASY funding through fiscal year
2007, or more than 95 percent of the program's total expenses. As the
Inspector General's report states repeatedly, ASY was established "to
communicate public support to the troops," not to "brand" ASY, get
media coverage, or solicit corporate or celebrity support. Yet, SDI
used taxpayer funds to pitch Allison Barber to "Fox and Friends,"
sponsor a "Weekly Reader" supplement that urged schoolchildren to hold
"Freedom Walks" on September 11, purchase and decorate an ASY float for
a Memorial Day parade, and design, produce and promote dog tags with
the ASY logo.

Further complicating the SDI / ASY picture is the
personal friendship between Allison Barber and Susan Ann Davis, who
heads the PR firm. Their friendship is hinted at in the Inspector
General's report, which mentions in passing that "SDI frequently
traveled with the Deputy Assistant Secretary [Barber] on the same
flights and used the same lodging locations." SDI also billed ASY for
staff hours spent drafting a letter nominating Barber for a
"Communicator of the Year" award, "a service unrelated to the ASY
contract," as the report notes.

Add to this murky situation an almost-complete lack
of specific goals for or oversight of SDI's work. Given such wide
latitude, SDI staff charged "annual rates" for their ASY work of up to
$662,945, which the Inspector General's report admits "appear excessive
for public relations support." The firm also sought and received
payment for "specifically unallowable" expenses, such as alcohol,
first-class airfare and expensive hotel rooms, in addition to duplicate
expenses. Other "questionable" payments to SDI include "entertainment
expenses" for performers at ASY events, such as actor Gary Sinise's Lt.
Dan Band and country star Clint Black, and labor charges for
"well-known Republican political strategist" Ed Rollins.

Yet, SDI retained the lucrative contract for
America Supports You. In early 2008, when ASY's PR contract was up for
renewal, the Pentagon supposedly opened it up to bids by outside firms.
However, the process limited who could bid, gave outside firms less
than three weeks' notice and evaluated bids on terms that clearly
benefited SDI. The head of one firm complained, "The process ... leads
me to believe that it has been designed to retain the incumbent
agency." The Inspector General's report agrees that no firm other "than
the incumbent had a fair opportunity."

Susan Davis has called the findings of the
Inspector General's report "outrageous," adding: "We are
extraordinarily proud of our work." Presumably, Davis would say that
SDI helped draw public attention and support to the more than 300
military charity groups associated with ASY. Yet, SDI and ASY angered
many of those groups by playing favorites. One group, Operation
Homefront, was frequently featured in SDI's media pitches and chosen as
a beneficiary of corporate ASY fundraisers. Another group, ThanksUSA,
was given $50,000 worth of SDI's PR services. In January 2006, SDI was
authorized to spend another $600,000 on "assistance with [the] launch
of the ThanksUSA nationwide treasure hunt."

Barber's "involvement in the entire procurement
process" -- from obtaining funds for ASY to awarding contracts to her
friends at SDI and then overseeing those contracts -- was the major
cause of the program's problems. Simply put, Barber had "too much power
and influence," the Inspector General's report concludes. ASY was
supposed to have a steering committee, to oversee and direct the
program. But instead of establishing the committee, Barber stalled and
then insisted on appointing herself as its head. Rather than fight
Barber, the Pentagon's public affairs office gave up on the steering
committee idea.

Since Barber's resignation, ASY has stopped using
the SDI firm. The ASY program has also been refocused on its "original
mission" of "communicating support for U.S. troops and their families,"
promised Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Robert
Hastings. "You won't find any of us out there building or driving that
activity," Hastings told Stars and Stripes. "We're simply

The ASY Fund

legacy of Allison Barber's (and hence ASY's) lack of boundaries is the
ASY Fund. The ASY Fund is a private group that obtained nonprofit
status in mid-2007. The group's placeholder website uses the Defense
Department's ASY logo, and variously gives its full name as the
"America Supports You Fund" and the "America Salutes You Fund."

The ASY Fund's apparent affiliation with the
Defense Department program "causes confusion for the public and
constitutes implied endorsement by DoD," concludes the Inspector
General's report. It also allows the private group to "unfairly"
benefit "from DoD branding the ASY program name."

Barber initially wanted the ASY Fund to be a
Pentagon program. It was only established as a separate entity after
Congress rebuffed her repeated attempts to obtain permission for the
Defense Department "to solicit and accept monetary donations from
citizens," according to the report.

Yet the ASY Fund has, at times, functioned like a
Pentagon program. Susan Davis International billed ASY for public
relations work done on behalf of the ASY Fund. Barber helped obtain the
ASY Fund's largest donation to date, $50,000 from Bank of America. The
confusion between the Defense Department's ASY program and the private
ASY Fund is further illustrated by the fact that Bank of America sent
its ASY Fund donation to SDI.

The ASY Fund's board "consists of former senior
Federal employees," notes the report. According to the group's 2007
financial report, these include president Grant S. Green Jr., a
marketing executive and former Undersecretary of State who Barber asked
to establish the ASY Fund. The board's chair is Lawrence Di Rita, a
former Defense Department public affairs official who was involved in
the Pentagon's covert pundit program and who now serves as a
spokesperson for Bank of America. Also on ASY Fund board is Celia Hoke,
Barber's former assistant at the Pentagon, and Patricia Meadows, who
works at Green's marketing firm for military contractors.

The Inspector General's report states that the ASY
Fund's board "will be reconstituted in the near future," but questions
the private group's use of the Defense Department program's name and
logo. Pentagon lawyers are studying the matter, the report notes, and
will provide a "more detailed response ... within 30 days."

Where is Allison Barber?

an interview with the Navy Times, Assistant Secretary of Defense
Hastings stressed that the Inspector General's report on America
Supports You was "an audit of management practices" and "declined to
speculate on any future actions to audit report's conclusions could
spark." It's also unclear what Allison Barber has been doing, since her
October 2008 resignation.

Will Allison Barber be held accountable for the
nepotism, misuse of public funds and multiple breaches of Pentagon
policy -- not to mention the misdirection of resources intended to
benefit U.S. service members -- that have been documented at ASY? Or
will she quietly return to the private sector, perhaps providing PR
advice to the same companies to which she once gave Defense Department

It's easy to be cynical, but a cynic wouldn't have
dreamt that the Inspector General's office would author such a damning
report on ASY. The various Defense Department offices involved are
supposed to respond in full to the report by January 12. Stay tuned.

Diane Farsetta is the Center for Media and Democracy's ( senior researcher.

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