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Report Finds Mismanagement in America Supports You Program

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 12, 2008 – The Defense Department Inspector General reports that the America Supports You program was being managed in a “questionable and irregular manner,” the department’s top public affairs official said today.

Robert T. Hastings, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, spoke with reporters in advance of the release of the inspector general’s audit.

Dorrance Smith, then-assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, requested the IG audit in May 2007.

Still, Hastings said, America Supports You is a “tremendous initiative” for U.S. servicemembers and their families. As originally conceived, the program aimed to inform servicemembers and their loved ones of what “thousands of individuals, community groups, corporations, businesses and others are doing to support them,” he said.

The department already has put in place actions that will return the program to its roots, he said.

There were four key findings in the IG report. The first is that the program morphed over time to include building and soliciting support of the public, from schoolchildren, corporations, celebrities and so on, Hastings said. “So it went from a communications program to soliciting support,” he said.

The second finding is that $9.2 million in appropriated funds was transferred to The Stars and Stripes – a military newspaper -- to cover America Supports You program expenses using nonappropriated-fund rules. “Stars and Stripes is a nonappropriated fund activity,” Hastings said. “The contracting rules are different.”

The third finding is that the office of the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs did not provide adequate oversight for an $8.8 million contract to a public relations firm – Susan Davis International. “The report questions the nature of the contract, the nature of the work that was performed and the competitive process in hiring that agency,” Hastings said.

Finally, the report found that a private foundation using the America Supports You name and logo creates confusion and constitutes an implied endorsement. “That confusion led to perceptions of government endorsements of that private fund,” he said.

Well before the release of the report, defense officials began to make changes in the way America Supports You was administered. In May, the department let a contract to replace the one that went through Stars and Stripes, Hastings said.

All America Supports You work is now being done by government workers, and the America Supports You Web site has been changed to eliminate any possible confusion between the government effort and the private foundation.

Hastings said the report made good and valid points, and that officials will use it as a model to return the program to its original goals.

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