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WASHINGTON — Senior Army leaders were warned about potential fraud and rampant sexual harassment by government social scientists sent to Iraq and Afghanistan under the Army’s Human Terrain System, newly released documents show.
An investigation of time cards submitted by the Human Terrain Team members in 2009 and 2010 “revealed irregularities both in overtime and compensatory time card reporting ... Of note, supervisory involvement in the time sheet management process was not documented, nor does there appear to be an auditable system in place,” according to documents released by the Army.
In February, a USA Today investigation of the program found substantiated instances of sexual harassment and racism, potential fraud in filing time sheets and indifference to the reports team members had produced. The Army documents were obtained earlier this year by USA Today through a Freedom of Information Act request. But the Army withheld some part of the report then, and released them this month after a series of FOIA appeals.
The newly released documents, most from 2010, show that concerns about Human Terrain Team members reached high levels of the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), including the deputy commander.
A “climate survey” of the program, meanwhile, showed that “race and gender discrimination; allegations of age and national origin discrimination also exist.” It states that “the potential exists for the filing of numerous (minimum of 14) Equal Employment Opportunity complaints.”
A few of the comments from team members “attempt to portray the general consensus of responders.”
■ “My supervisor is the laziest, most incompetent human being I have ever met.”
■ “Program is fraught with waste, fraud and abuse.”
■ “Sexual harassment is prevalent and sexist behavior is an everyday occurrence; I was sexually harassed in the field repeatedly; sexual comments and jokes are rampant; nearly every female in the program faces some form of sexual harassment.”
The Army recognized the time-sheet fraud was a problem and ordered training for Human Terrain System employees on how to fill them out properly, the documents show. It has also said that sexual harassment is not tolerated, and a contractor found responsible for it was fired.
Funding also has nearly been cut in half over the last two years for the program, which puts social scientists on the battlefield to help commanders understand local societies.
The Army has allotted $58 million to fund 20 teams of social scientists in 2013. That compares with $114 million in 2011 for 41 teams, according to the Army. The decrease can be attributed to the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, said Greg Mueller, an Army spokesman. Fewer teams on the battlefield results in a smaller budget for the program, he said.
A critic in Congress is calling for deeper cuts to the program.
“The HTS reduction is long overdue and it’s good to see the Army take this initial action to downsize the program,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican and member of the Armed Services Committee. “The program definitely requires an even closer look for reasons pertaining to both past performance and future necessity.”
The House in July directed the Pentagon to report on the need for the program given because it will have limited use as the military focuses on the Asia-Pacific region. The armed services committee noted the need for “sociocultural capabilities” and noted that the Human Terrain System had filled gaps in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“However, the committee is concerned that with the draw down of forces in Afghanistan and the refocus to the Asia-Pacific region, there may be a growing sense that some of the capabilities that proved so useful in the Middle East will be of little or no value in potential contingencies rooted in the Asia Pacific region,” the committee’s report said.
Human Terrain Team members, trained in the United States as contractors, deploy to war zones as federal employees. Their goal: advise commanders on how to avoid bloodshed by understanding local cultures and provide them insight in how to improve the lives of local residents.
The program expanded rapidly as the military embraced counterinsurgency principles at the peak of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Several former and current members of the program told investigators and the paper, on condition of anonymity, that they regularly filed for hours they didn’t work, taking home more than $200,000 a year and months of comp time for little effort. The Army’s internal investigation showed that supervisors directed team members to claim the maximum amount of overtime and comp time possible, earning them salaries topping $280,000 and entitling them to six months paid leave upon returning to the United States.
By contrast, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel earns a salary of about $200,000.
The Army has responded to allegations of fraud, which it has said have not been substantiated by investigators, by providing more training on properly filling out time sheets.
Some commanders also questioned the value of the teams’ reports, according to Army documents.
In February, an analysis of the military reviews of the program showed that the details of the scathing internal Army report were not passed on to others reviewing the program.
A May 2010 study by the TRADOC’s Office of Internal Review and Audit Compliance at the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, which controls the program, did not cite the problems with fraudulent time sheets, harassment or racism. Nor did a November 2010 study by the Center for Naval Analyses that Congress demanded from the Pentagon. The details were also missing in a June 2012 Pentagon inspector general’s analysis.