Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Foreign, private sources paid for Pentagon travel

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Pentagon employees have received millions of dollars in travel expenses from foreign countries and private industry, raising conflict of interest concerns, according to a study released on Wednesday.
The Center for Public Integrity study found that outside benefactors paid for more than 22,000 trips worth at least $26 million for U.S. military personnel and Pentagon civilian employees from 1998 to 2007.
The U.S. medical industry, manufacturing sector and the Chinese and Russian governments were among those who paid for the trips, often to popular vacation spots like Paris, Rome and Honolulu, according to the study.
"This is riddled with conflicts of interest and it is creating relationships that are worth an awful lot of money to these companies for relatively little spending," said Bill Buzenberg, executive director of the Washington-based interest group.
The Pentagon said the trips appeared to have been vetted through legal counsel to ensure compliance with travel and ethics regulations designed to avoid conflict of interest for defense employees who oversee billions of dollars in programs.
"Of course, the reason you know about this is because of the transparency of the system," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.
The study cited a $24,000 trip taken by a deputy director of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency and his wife, which was paid for by Saudi Prince Miteb bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz. The agency is responsible for programs through which foreign governments buy advanced U.S. weapons systems.
Foreign governments including Australia, Singapore, Japan and the United Arab Emirates paid more than $2.6 million for 1,500 trips during the nine-year period, it said.
The U.S. medical industry was the leading travel sponsor, paying out $10 million for some 8,700 trips taken by military pharmacists, doctors and others responsible for a $6 billion Pentagon prescription-drug budget, the study said.
Whitman said he was unaware of any change in Defense Department travel policy since 2007, the final year included in the study, which was produced in conjunction with Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.
(Reporting by David Morgan; editing by Paul Simao)

Source: Reuters

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