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House member seeks end to Army social scientist program

Dec. 2, 2013 - 07:05PM   |  
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WASHINGTON — A House critic of the Army’s practice of embedding social scientists with combat units called Monday for Army and House leaders to end the program.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican on the Armed Services Committee, sent letters to House committee chairmen and the Army secretary urging them to cut funding to the Human Terrain System and shut it down. The program, begun during the height of the counterinsurgency wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, had documented cases of fraud, racism and sexual harassment dating to 2010, a USA Today investigation found earlier this year.

“In 2013, the Army allocated $58 million to support 20 teams of scientists, a decrease from 41 teams, at a cost to taxpayers of $114 million,” Hunter wrote. “The reduction in funding and teams was necessary as a result of inadequate performance and necessity, but the overall cost and failures of HTS indicate that the program be considered for termination.”

The Army has 13 human terrain teams deployed in Afghanistan and reports that their work is widely admired, Lt. Col. Richard Stebbins, a spokesman, said Monday.

“The most recent survey found that 89 percent of commanders and their staffs assessed Human Terrain Teams as useful to decision-making and 92 percent of their information was actionable,” Stebbins said.

Human Terrain Team members are trained in the United States as contractors and then deployed to war zones as federal employees. They advise commanders on tactics to avoid bloodshed and provide insight on improving the lives of local residents.

Former and current team members told Army investigators and the paper, on condition of anonymity, that they regularly claimed hours they didn’t work, taking home more than $200,000 a year and months of comp time for little or no work. The Army’s investigation showed some members were paid salaries topping $280,000 and also given six months paid leave upon returning home.

Most of their complaints date to 2010. The Army says allegations of fraud have never been proved. Nonetheless, it has provided more training on properly filling out time sheets. Army Secretary John McHugh has defended the program, saying this spring that the problems identified by the Army’s own report have been addressed.

The Army plans to retain teams and assign them to its forces assigned to different parts of the world, Stebbins said.

Hunter also noted in his letter that the same contractor in charge of the troubled launch of the HealthCare.gov website also handled the HTS contract for the Army.

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