The Pentagon Encyclopedia of Ethical Failure

A hilarious and infuriating database of government shortcomings

By Matthew Gault

Ethically, it’s been a rough couple of years for the military.

In July 2013, an Air Force major general went on an epic five-day bender while on a diplomatic mission in Russia. That November, Navy officials launched an investigation into misconduct involving top officers and a Malaysian contractor named Fat Leonard.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction has released report after report detailing corruption and waste by contractors and military officials.

Individually, the cases are all bad news. The good news is that authorities often catch and punish government cheats, thieves and frauds. Penalties for ripping off the American taxpayer range from huge fines to hard time in prison.

And when the trial ends and punishment begins, many military ethics cases wind up in the Pentagon’s Encyclopedia of Ethical Failure.

That’s right, the military maintains a database of the federal government’s worst ethics violators. Unlike many government documents, the encyclopedia is clear, easy to read … and actually quite funny. Many of the stories are as amusing as they are aggravating.

It might be the most light-hearted official report anyone’s ever written about criminals.

“Imaginary Ball and Chain Drags Staff Sergeants Down” is one highlight. The Army pays its soldiers a monthly housing allowance. Married soldiers get more cash than singles do.

To game the system, one sergeant convinced his girlfriend to pretend to be his wife. He even forged a marriage license to substantiate the union. He took taxpayers for almost $30,000 in healthcare and housing.

“The relationship must have gone sour, though,” the report reads. “She ended up turning him in to military investigators. After such a betrayal, one can only assume he will now be filing for a fake divorce.”

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This kind of amusing commentary is the norm in the encyclopedia. “We try to keep it more entertaining than a U.S. attorney prosecution news release,” an official at the Department of Defense’s Standards of Conduct Office told War Is Boring.

The Standards of Conduct Office handles these kinds of cases for the Pentagon. “We are the principal ethics adviser for the secretary of defense and those serving in his office,” the official said.

The office is also responsible for updating The Encyclopedia of Ethical Failures.

A little friendly instruction at the Edwards Air Force Base golf course (U.S. Air Force)

The failures cataloged run the gamut, from government credit-card fraud to grand larceny. Some people just want to get out of work. A listing entitled “Secret Agent Man?” describes one industrious Environmental Protection Agency official who scammed the government for close to a million bucks.

The EPA guy routinely ducked out of work … for days at a time. When his supervisors asked him about his absences, he told them he was doing top-secret work for the CIA.

“He lied about contracting malaria,” the report continues. “Which cost the EPA $8,000 over three years for a parking space reserved for the disabled.”

Another government employee at a military base was less creative. He’d just knock off every day after putting in three hours or so. Come 10 o’clock each morning, he could be found getting drunk at the local bar. “It’s five o’clock somewhere,” the encyclopedia mocks.

“People aren’t gonna flip through 200 listings of [legal briefs,]” SOCO told me. “But they will look through ours.”

Former Standards of Conduct director Stephen Epstein created The Encyclopedia of Ethical Failure a decade ago. He wanted to compile ethics cases for training purposes—and also to publicly shame the goons wasting taxpayer cash.

Another common entry the encyclopedia involves misuse of government vehicles. Helicopter crews in particular have a bad habit of flying missions they aren’t cleared for.

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Matthew Gault
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