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WASHINGTON — The military's $250 million program to send social scientists to the battlefield will receive more congressional oversight, following a report by USA Today that found the program beset by potential fraud and ineffectiveness.
The Pentagon has lost the ability to objectively assess the value of Human Terrain System teams and other programs, said Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican and member of the House Armed Services Committee.
Problems come to light with programs such as Human Terrain teams, he said, only when Congress or the media ask probing questions. Military officials lose objectivity when they've been involved with programs for years, Hunter said.
Congress will take a closer look at Human Terrain teams and other programs, he said, because the military has not measured their effectiveness properly.
"You have programs that you can't really gauge an outcome," Hunter said. "We'll be looking at that more."
The Human Terrain teams take funding away from more urgent needs such as paying for Marines to train and ships to operate, Hunter said. The Pentagon plans to cut funding for training except for troops headed to combat to deal with budget cuts scheduled for March 1.
"Even if it worked perfectly, and commanders said it was saving lives, we're at a time now with our budget and economy that the money might not better be put to use in operational capability that we're cutting," he said.
The USA Today investigation, based on internal Army documents and interviews with social scientists involved in the program, found that there were substantiated instances of sexual harassment and racism and potential fraud in filing time sheets. Some commanders also questioned the value of the teams' reports, according to Army documents.
A contractor was fired over a sexual harassment allegation, and a soldier was disciplined for making racist statements. However, no one appears to have been prosecuted or reprimanded for systematic abuse of time sheets. 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.
The Army maintains that the problems with the program have been addressed. Supervisors have been trained to fill out time sheets properly. Moreover, investigations into time sheet abuse by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have not resulted in prosecutions, the Army says.
Reports of the Human Terrain program conducted after the May 2010 Army investigation said the service's Training and Doctrine Command was either slow or unresponsive in producing documents about the program. TRADOC is the Army branch that manages the program.