WASHINGTON — Newly released budget figures show the military has paid $726 million since 2007 to send social scientists to battlefields, a program with documented cases of fraud and racial and sexual harassment.
The expenditure was disclosed in a Dec. 23 letter from Army Secretary John McHugh to Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., on the Armed Services Committee. Hunter has been a critic of the Human Terrain System teams, which advise commanders on how to avoid bloodshed and improve the lives of local residents.
McHugh praised the program, writing that 95 percent of commanders and staff members in Afghanistan “assessed HTS information as actionable and useful for decision-making.”
Hunter said Wednesday that spending on the program cannot be justified in an era of shrinking military budgets even if some of its problems have been addressed. The Pentagon plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan at the end of 2014 and faces hundreds of billions of dollars in budget cuts in coming years.
“It’s shocking that this program, with its controversy and highly questionable need, could be extended,” Hunter said. “It should be ended in all reality.”
A USA Today investigation of the program found it had been “fraught with waste, fraud and abuse,” according to an internal Army investigation from 2010.
Documents obtained by the newspaper showed members filled out fake time sheets at the urging of supervisors to pad their paychecks. Some members were paid $280,000 per year for work that investigators doubt was done.
A survey of team members included some of these comments
■ “Time-sheet fraud in theater overlooked by administration repeatedly.”
■ “Top leadership in the program suffers from serious ethical challenges.”
■ “Program is rife with racism, sexism.”
Hunter acknowledged improvements have been made since 2010, but he expressed doubt that the program could have been turned around so quickly.
“It’s fair to assume that the program has been improved, but highlighting such a dramatic transformation in a compressed time frame, without confirmation of the measures used to assess effectiveness, says to me that there’s far more reason to question the information than to accept it,” Hunter said.