By David Alexander
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon's top military officers have decided to review the kind of staff support provided to senior generals and admirals after several high-profile scandals raised concerns about the inappropriate use of personnel and equipment for personal gain.
The decision, announced on Friday, to take a closer look at support given to senior military leaders was one of two initial recommendations to come from a review of ethics training requested by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta three weeks ago.
Panetta ordered the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff to undertake the ethics training review at a time when two of the military's top generals and the CIA director, himself a retired general, were embroiled in scandals or investigations.
CIA Director David Petraeus resigned after acknowledging an extramarital affair, while Marine Corps General John Allen, who leads the war effort in Afghanistan, was put under investigation over allegedly questionable emails, and Army General William Ward was demoted over misuse of staff and aircraft.
Ward was stripped of one star and ordered to repay $82,000 after the inspector general found he inappropriately used military aircraft and vehicles, wasted government money on travel and used his staff to perform personal services for him and his wife.
Officers who have jobs that require them to entertain dignitaries may have aides who prepare official meals, maintain their dress uniforms and other tasks. But regulations prohibit the officers from using staff for personal chores, such as child care, walking the dog or doing household laundry.
In a November 14 memo to General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Panetta said lapses in conduct by top officers could "erode public confidence in our leadership" and hurt the military's ability to perform its mission.
He asked the Joint Chiefs to review ethics training for officers for any gaps and report back in time for him to brief President Barack Obama on December 1.
Dempsey had been reviewing ethics issues separately for much of the year, even before Panetta's request.
'CONSISTENT, SENSIBLE AND EFFICIENT'
Pentagon spokesman George Little said on Friday that Dempsey made two key points in his initial findings: current ethics training is appropriate but may need to be started earlier and reinforced more frequently, and staff support for senior officers merits further examination.
"General Dempsey believes we must look at the level and type of support senior leaders receive in the execution of their duties, to ensure it is necessary and to ensure we are being consistent, sensible and efficient," Little told a briefing.
He declined to elaborate on what was meant by "support," other than to say it referred to "personnel infrastructure underneath general and flag officers."
Senior generals and admirals have significant flexibility in assembling the staff they need to carry out their jobs. Staffing provided to top military leaders is often a function of the specific job and is influenced by tradition within the particular service branch.
Generals and admirals also may have a range of more senior aides to help them carry out official functions, from staffing their offices and offering advice to preparing reports and maintaining their official schedules. Different services have different rules governing staffing levels and use.
"There are different types of support that general and flag officers get," said Lieutenant Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman. "As an example, general officers in command often have an aide de camp."
"They also, based on the requirements of their position, often have other support staff to help ... with some of the more routine day-to-day activities," he added. "Additionally, as part of their duties, they will often have more senior officers surrounding them to help them with preparing documents, doing preparation for meetings that they have, things like this."
Little said the Joint Chiefs planned to look at the differences among the services in the support staff provided to senior officers to decide whether it was appropriate.
(Editing by Warren Strobel and Peter Cooney)