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Loose with travel dollars: Ayyar, Cornum, Wyman, Moore

Jun. 23, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Left to right, top row first: Ayyar, Cornum, Wyman, Moore
Left to right, top row first: Ayyar, Cornum, Wyman, Moore (Air Force)
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The formercommander of Air Force Recruiting Service often traveled in style, staying in pricy hotels, renting midsize cars and bringing along an 'entourage.'

The formercommander of Air Force Recruiting Service often traveled in style, staying in pricy hotels, renting midsize cars and bringing along an 'entourage.'

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The formercommander of Air Force Recruiting Service often traveled in style, staying in pricy hotels, renting midsize cars and bringing along an “entourage.”

Brig. Gen. Balan Ayyar expected “accommodations befitting his rank and position,” said one person who worked for him. “He was the most high-maintenance person I’ve ever come in contact with in my years in the Air Force.”

On one day-long trip to the Pentagon from Joint Base San Antonio-Randolphin June 2012, Ayyar stayed in a Hyatt Regency that charged $280 a night and rented a car to get between the airport, the hotel and the Pentagon — all within a few minutes’ Metro ride of each other and less than $15 by taxi.

While head of the 81st Medical Group at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, Brig. Gen. Kory Cornum regularly sent members of his executive staff to questionable training in destinations such as Hawaii and Las Vegas when there were closer and less costly options.

Brig. Gen. Daniel Wyman, command surgeon of Air Combat Command, sent one civilian on his staff to six training courses on the same topic in two years.

Maj. Gen. Thomas Moore, commander of the Georgia Air National Guard, approved more than $2,000 in travel money for nine airmen who participated in a May 2011 fundraising event begun in the two-star’s honor.

While the Air Force was counting pennies to keep planes flying, these four general officers were blowing cash on wasteful expenses, the Air Force Inspector General’s Office found.

Ayyar blamed others for the mistakes — members of his staff who made the travel arrangements or improperly claimed reimbursements on his behalf. Cornum, Wyman and Moore defended their spending to investigators.

But the IG found ultimately the general officers were responsible for their own travel and that of those under their command. The service meted out punishment ranging from verbal counseling to letters of reprimand.

'Look at me' persona

Ayyar’s two-year tenure as Air Force Recruiting Service commander got off to a rough start in September 2010.

“When [Ayyar] first got here he took an [executive] or an action officer out with him on every trip, and it was almost a persona of ‘look at me, I have my entourage, I’m important,’ ” a witness whose name was redacted from the report told the investigating officer.

“There was absolutely no trust between anyone — the [executive] officer, the secretary, the vice commander, absolutely no one,” the witness said.

The IG report described personality conflicts between Ayyar and multiple directors. “Brig. Gen. Ayyar’s leadership style was often described as very direct, even intimidating. At first it was taken as one-way communication, and feedback was not heeded,” the IG wrote.

From this environment, a unprecedented set of expectations arose. While Ayyar’s predecessors found the Metro and taxis to be cheaper and more convenient on trips to the Pentagon, Ayyar preferred rental cars, said those who worked for him.

After one of Ayyar’s first trips there, an officer who traveled with the one-star reported back that “anytime the general went to D.C. there would always be a rental car,” one staff member said.

When it came to booking flights, said a staff member, “I was told to always ask for an aisle seat. Now, if that was possible, I asked for it. But then one time [Ayyar] came back from a flight where apparently they had put him next to the restroom and he let me know how unappreciated that was. And that I need to call the ticket office and make sure that didn’t happen again.”

When Ayyar made plans to run the Air Force Marathon at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, in September 2011, his staff set up meetings within the local recruiting squadron there to justify the trip on the government’s dime.

On race day, Ayyar had no official role but claimed temporary duty status anyway, violating travel regulations, the IG found.

The one-star told the IG he never directed his staff to set up an itinerary for the visit. He’d intended to take leave and was willing to pay for the trip out-of-pocket. But, Ayyar said, he had no reason to question the staff member who filled out his travel voucher.

On a one-day trip to the Pentagon the following June, a staff member arranged for Ayyar to pick up a rental car at the airport. Ayyar told the IG he needed a vehicle to meet a challenging schedule; he had a meeting at the Pentagon less than an hour and a half after his arrival at the airport.

The IG disagreed. A taxi from the airport to the Pentagon cost $12, the investigation found. The Metro was widely known “to be both quicker and more reliable/predictable than renting a car at the airport, driving to the Pentagon and then finding parking.”

When questioned further, Ayyar told the IG: “You’d have to ask [the staff member who arranged the trip] about it. Sometimes she makes tight turns and she finds a rental car is quicker. ... I don’t put a lot of thought into it.”

Ayyar’s staff also bypassed the travel system for booking a hotel, choosing the Hyatt Regency Crystal City for its proximity to the Pentagon. The staff member told the IG the travel system was often unreliable for the area, so she usually made reservations at a handful of hotels she trusted.

The $280-a-night rate was more than $50 over the maximm authorized housing allowance for the area. The price turned out to be a hotel billing mistake that wasn’t caught until the IG officer called the hotel as part of the investigation.

“It was apparent Brig. Gen. Ayyar failed to develop a culture within his organization that was conscious of costs and willing to challenge questionable travel practices and expenses,” the IG wrote. Though Ayyar never directed his staff on how to set up his travel plans, the general allowed “ ‘a sense of expectation’ to develop, where his subordinates prioritized his convenience over prudent use of government funds.”

Ayyar, who declined comment for this story, was issued a letter of counseling for violating travel regulations and wasting government funds, the Air Force said.

In July, the brigadier general became commanding general of the Combined Joint Interagency Task Force in Afghanistan. He now serves as special assistant to the commander at Air Education and Training Command.

Needless training

A staff sergeant’s upcoming temporary duty to Hawaii for training generated plenty of gossip within the 81st Medical Group in early 2012.

At least four people — including the staff sergeant herself — were worried about wasteful spending or the perception of it. A lieutenant colonel wrote a memorandum for the record to document the trip was “in excess of need,” and the resource management office signed off on the request “because of Brig. Gen. Cornum’s insistence.”

The training course, run by the General Services Administration, was offered nine times that year, eight times within the continental U.S. And at least one expert at the base offered to help train the staff sergeant locally.

But Cornum was adamant the staff sergeant take the GSA course in Hawaii, where he believed she would receive the best instruction on Joint Federal Travel Regulations. His secretary from his previous job as ACC command surgeon had gone to the same course every year; so had a technical sergeant whom the staff sergeant was replacing.

“It was just a lot of push back, and it just kept coming. It just wouldn’t stop,” a chief master sergeant told an IG investigator looking into allegations Cornum had needlessly or extravagantly spent Air Force funds for training members of his executive staff. “I think it even got to the point where the deputy pretty much got upset [at those who objected] and said, ‘hey, the general says she’s going, shut up and color.’ ”

The staff sergeant went to Hawaii. When she returned, she found the lieutenant colonel’s memo attached to her travel voucher and took it straight to Cornum. The brigadier general told the IG that was the first he’d heard of any concerns.

“I did not have a clue all of this was happening,” he told the IG.

Cornum summoned the lieutenant colonel to his office and told him to take another look at whether the training was a waste of money, to “call the experts ... dig in.”

A month later, the lieutenant colonel amended his memo, calling the training “in the best interest of the Air Force.”

When the IG asked the staff sergeant whether she thought the training was worthwhile, she was ambivalent. “I’m not gonna sit and say that it was completely worthless ’cause I did get [a] good education out of it,” she said. “It was not a complete and total loss because it helped, you know, with networking.”

In all, Cornum sent “at a minimum” a civilian employee, two staff sergeants and a technical sergeant “for training to better support his travel requirements” even though the general acknowledged they already did their jobs well, the IG found. In at least one instance, one of the airmen attended a course unrelated to her work.

A civilian employee also went TDY to Colorado for a secretarial course despite the fact that Cornum “noted no deficiencies in her performance, recognized her extensive experience and strong performance,” the report said.

The technical sergeant told the IG she could have learned just as much by reading the Joint Federal Travel Regulations.

Cornum defended the training for his executive staff, saying his “number one through 10 goal is to make them a better officer or noncommissioned officer when they leave. ... my job is to make them better through training, through conversations ... that’s really how I approach it.”

While admirable, the IG report concluded, Cornum needlessly spent Air Force funds on unnecessary training. “In addition ... the decision-making process was faulty.”

Cornum relied on his ACC secretary’s judgment and his own “even when faced with objections from members of his staff ... whose functional roles were tied to managing resources and supporting travel requirements,” the report said, and he displayed “an unwillingness to accept or consider credible viewpoints at odds with his own desires.”

When Wyman replaced Cornum as ACC command surgeon in May 2010 at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, he “engaged in similar wasteful spending” by sending members of his executive staff TDY for federal travel regulations training, according to the IG report.

Less than two years after taking command, Wyman had approved six training courses for the same civilian employee, including the same course twice in seven months.

The employee traveled to Colorado Springs, Colorado; Jacksonville, Florida; and twice to both Las Vegas and Hawaii. Similar training was offered in Washington, D.C. — just a three-hour drive by car.

Both the employee and Wyman said scheduling conflicts prevented attendance closer to home.

“As you know, I’m a medic, I’m a physician, I grew up with a constant medical education ... and I believe education is great,” Wyman told the IG investigator. “It makes them a better person. It makes them a better ‘airman with a big A,’ and it makes our Air Force better.”

The training courses also resulted in significant costs savings for the Air Force, Wyman said, although he couldn’t provide a figure.

“Given that [the employee] attended courses in ‘destination’ locations on a frequent basis and did not attend any of the courses offered just three hours away in Washington DC casts strong suspicion on the priorities involved in the decision making,” the IG said.

The Air Force issued Cornum, now command surgeon of Air Mobility Command, a letter of admonishment for wasteful spending. Wyman was verbally counseled, the service said.

Both generals declined an Air Force Times request for comment.

Funds for personal travel

As Moore’s tenure as commander of the 116th Air Control Wing at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, came to a close in 2010, the wing hosted a bike-riding event in honor of their outgoing leader.

The Museum of Aviation on base co-sponsored the event, dubbed Tour de Moose, with funds raised going to the museum.

The second ride was in May 2011. By now, Moore was commander of the Georgia Air National Guard at Dobbins Air Force Base, about a two-hour drive away. The state Guard had also taken over co-sponsorship from the 116th ACW.

While the event remained at Robins, it “kind of went with [Moore],” one witness told the IG investigator looking into allegations of waste.

From his new post at Dobbins, the IG said, the commander encouraged airmen to conduct any outstanding business at Robins on the weekend of the Tour de Moose so they could participate in the event and collect temporary duty pay.

That was a violation of travel regulations, which state you can’t use official duty as an excuse for personal travel, the IG said.

Moore told the IG he never directed anyone to participate in the Tour de Moose. The IG said there was a general misunderstanding among senior officials who “believe that if you have personal business and can find an official reason to go to the TDY location then it is proper to use government funds to pay for the travel of an individual.”

Nine airmen received travel orders to Robins on the weekend of the bike ride, collecting about $2,000 in all, the IG determined. They listed various reasons for the trips: information meeting, retention board, local training.

All nine had their temporary duty “unnecessarily extended with eight of the nine … participating in Tour de Moose,” the IG said. “In all cases … [they] traveled to Robins on Friday; thus incurring one additional day of travel expense for the U.S. government.”

The IG further found:

■ After becoming commander of the Georgia Air National Guard in July 2010, Moore did not give up his federal civilian job as commander of the 116th ACW. He continued receiving federal civilian pay until December of that year, improperly collecting $68,582.80 for a position he should have vacated.

■During this same time, Moore received travel funds for temporary duty to his permanent duty station at Dobbins on three occasions. He was improperly reimbursed $895.25 “because he was not properly assigned as a member of that unit [116th] after” July 24, 2010.

An attorney for Moore told Air Force Times the major general did not believe he had done anything wrong at the time. Personnel rules for reservists in technical positions — as Moore was — are complex and difficult to understand, Lauren Johnson-Naumann said.

“The allegation he improperly obtained money because he was in an improper position — to the extent it was a problem it was inadvertent because it was cleared through the human resources officer and was directed by the adjutant general of the state,” the attorney said. “As far as [Moore] knew, it was not an issue. He was told it was proper.”

When Moore was told he should not have collected temporary duty pay for his travels to Dobbins, “he stopped doing it and paid the money back,” Johnson-Naumann said.

There is no indication Moore returned the federal pay, and his attorney said there is no reason he should have.

“Gen. Moore actually did the work and was entitled to be paid,” Johnson-Naumann said in an email. “The state placed General Moore in a federal position funded by the Air Force, per the direction of the Adjutant General with the concurrence of the Human Resources Officer. The Air Force later determined that Gen Moore should have been in a state position funded by the state. Gen Moore performed his duties and was entitled to payment. So any error was the source of the salary, not the salary itself.”

Moore was issued a letter of reprimand and continues in his position as commander of the Georgia Air National Guard.

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