Guarded Optimism For CA Military

FEB. 16, 2012

By KATY GRIMES

It could have been an episode of “The General, His Wife, The Staff, and the Military,” a movie about the scandal-plagued California National Guard. But instead, after four hours of grueling testimony at times, it appears that the California national Guard has one more chance to clean up its tarnished image.

A controversial hearing in the Senate ended Wednesday with a unanimous vote to confirm Maj. Gen. David S. Baldwin, Gov. Jerry Brown’s nominee, to head the state’s National Guard. But it wasn’t all accolades and flattery for the General; his ‘kick ass, and take names’ style was under fire, as well as some judgment issues over recent incidences.

Brown appointed Baldwin, an Afghanistan veteran who has served in the National Guard for 30 years, to Adjutant General of the Guard in April.

Baldwin was brought in to clean house. The California National Guard has a long history “of trouble, low morale and good old boy favoritism,” according to Committee Chairman, Sen. Pres. Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg. This reputation necessitated a completely different style of leadership. “Your two predecessors left under allegations of fraud,” Steinberg told Baldwin. Steinberg enumerated charges that they also improperly benefitted from double dipping and recruitment bonuses. Steinberg explained that the department has been plagued by the morale issues and  good old boy system, as well as suggestions of mistreatment of women and minorities. “While you were not in charge, you served in key positions,” Steinberg told Baldwin.

According to Steinberg, the hearing was to find out what Baldwin knew about the allegations and charges against the state’s National Guard department, and what Baldwin is doing differently in order to justify his confirmation.

At the opening of the four-hour hearing, Steinberg said that the question the committee would have answers to was, “do we have reasonable confidence that under your leadership the California National Guard will clean up its mess and inspire confidence in its operations?”

While some audience members at the hearing muttered that this was a case of the fox guarding the henhouse, it is the role of the Senate Rules Committee to ensure that due diligence is done with the nominee. Steinberg conducted a thorough and at times, delicate hearing, despite not pleasing everyone with the resulting outcome.

A Clean-House Mandate

The California National guard most recently, has been plagued with claims of fraud involving nearly $100 million in student loan repayments, cash bonuses for successful recruiting, as well as allegations of senior Guard officials double and triple dipping their pay.

At Baldwin’s swearing-in last April, while not specifically discussing the scandals, the Los Angeles Times reported that Brown said, “I think the main thing is, I wanted someone that I picked and that understood my vision for the Guard.”

Cleaning house is what Baldwin has done. But any time a new leader makes sweeping changes, toes are stepped on, and change makes many uncomfortable and even angry. There is no way a new leader can please all of the people. “I have a mandate from the governor to change the culture,” Baldwin told committee members.

That mandate, according to Baldwin, included the removal and replacement of 11 of the 13 lead officers directly reporting to Baldwin. Many of the replacements were made with officers from outside of California.

Baldwin has terminated or removed more than 114 guard employees, as well as the 11 leadership officers, in only nine months. Those actions are bound to anger many, and threaten even more.

The Grilling and The Love

It was Democratic Senators who asked the tough questions during the hearing – Republicans threw him underhand slow pitches, showing their early support.

However, missing from the hearing were specific questions and answers about Baldwin’s ability to perform as the head of the entire California Military Department, members of the military, civilians and made up of civil servants, and many union-represented employees.

Support 

Two lines formed along the hearing room walls when Steinberg asked for testimony in support of Baldwin’s nomination. Baldwin received glowing comments from many current and retired military, labor representatives, Cal Fire representatives, military associations, and current and former staff members. Even Baldwin’s Afghani translator, who accompanied him during two tours to Afghanistan, showed up to testify on his behalf.

There was no doubt after seeing and hearing the compelling supporting testimonials, that Baldwin is well respected by many in the military.

Opposition 

As beloved as Baldwin is to many, several of the opposition to his nomination were just as adamant.

Ronald Clark, the military auditor who blew the whistle on some of the financial shenanigans inside of the state’s military department, testified that Baldwin’s wife also worked for the California National Guard, and knew about the student loan scheme. Clark reported that Mrs. Baldwin had told him that her husband wasn’t going to get involved with the audit.

“Bonuses and student loan repayments for service members unqualified for the benefits, or who otherwise received them improperly, could have been as high as $100 million, according to a Guard auditor who blew the whistle,” the Sacramento Bee reported in August.

“Everything he said is true,” Baldwin said after Steinberg asked him for his reply to Clark’s charges. Baldwin explained that his wife was a contractor for the National Guard, but “she never told me about the scandal.”

And that was the extent of Baldwin’s explanation.

Steinberg moved on to the next opposition testimony.

Most of the opposition came from existing Equal Employment Opportunity discrimination claims that originated before Baldwin took over as Adjunct General.

But Brigadier General Charlotte Miller, terminated by Baldwin only two months after he accepted the role, testified her opposition to Baldwin’s confirmation. Miller questioned several of his actions including allegations of a cover up of missing automatic weapons, which she described as “a serious incident.” She explained that with Baldwin’s decision to prevent the investigation from reaching his superiors, he prevented the National Guard from using its resources to find the weapons.  Federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents eventually found the weapons, leaving the National Guard with egg on its face.

The second incident Miller addressed was how Baldwin terminated her; Miller alleges that Baldwin violated her right to due process by terminating her without providing her information about the alleged incident, which led to her termination. Miller has said that if Baldwin could do this to a Brigadier General, she was far more concerned about the due process rights of the remaining 20,000 guard members.

After Miller’s testimony, Steinberg reminded the committee that the hearing was not a court of law, but instead, an opportunity to hear how Baldwin responded to the critics.

The Mess and The Cleanup

Baldwin knowingly stepped into a mess after being asked to take over as the head of California’s National Guard by Governor Brown. At the confirmation hearing Wednesday, he accepted criticism with aplomb, even if some of his explanations of events and incidences were a bit thin.

Baldwin will be under a microscope. After numerous scandals with his predecessors, the Legislature and Governor will be watching Baldwin closely, and they told him so.

With 114 terminations under his belt, there can no doubt that mistakes have been made. While Miller reminded Baldwin that ‘kick ass and take names’ may work on the battlefield, she said that it doesn’t work in a state department. But that may be the reason Brown chose Baldwin to lead the Guard – a little ass-kicking appears to be what’s in order for the state’s military department, after many years of bogus vacation conference schemes, trumped-up recruiting efforts, student loan scandals, and numerous accusations of harassment of minority and female guard members.

Steinberg summed up his perspective: “I’ve heard a lot of concerns about General Baldwin, but more about real change in the National Guard.”



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