Pentagon official gave $280K in fraudulent retirement bonuses

A senior Pentagon official approved $280,000 in fraudulent bonuses to seven officials preparing to leave the department, according to a report released Thursday by the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General.

Ellen Ardrey was serving as the director of human development at the Pentagon’s National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), a massive agency based in Springfield, Virginia that employs 14,500 people who provide situational intelligence on everything from counterterrorism and weapons of mass destruction to wildfires and Super Bowls.

According to the report, Ardrey allowed senior officials at NGA to downgrade their positions for one pay period, which in turn allowed them to leave the agency with a $40,000 early-retirement buyout incentive. Such “early out” packages can be quickly approved by agency directors like Ardrey for non-senior officials when an agency is going through downsizing, but must receive clearance from the undersecretary for defense for all senior officials.

After a two-year investigation that included interviews with 16 witnesses and the review of over 31,000 emails, the Inspector General’s office found that Ardrey had complained that the process to receive approval for buyouts for senior officials was “onerous” and “slow,” at one point telling leadership: “The juice ain’t worth the squeeze on this.” 

Instead, Ardrey suggested to senior officials that they downgrade their position for one pay period to speed up the process. She told investigators that she believed she was acting legally, and that there was no law or policy that prohibited her from temporarily downgrading senior officials in order to hasten their buyout packages. 

“However, DoD buyout incentive subject matter experts that we interviewed told us that Ms. Ardrey’s downgrade and buyout incentive plan for senior officials was ‘gross mismanagement,’ ‘improper use of government resources,’ ‘looks like a shell game just to get them the opportunity to get an incentive,’ and would only make sense ‘if somebody wanted to get around the onerous approval process … for senior officials,’” the report concluded. “We agree.”

In a response to the report, Ardrey wrote that she had previously conducted similar downgrades at another government agency, and that other employees at NGA had told her the process “was not prohibited.”

“The investigation’s preliminary conclusion is based on inference and opinion, with insufficient evidence to substantiate intentional circumvention of DoD policy,” Ardrey wrote. “The recommendations I developed … were consistent with policy and followed established authorities.”

Ardrey could not be reached for comment.

The investigation into Ardrey’s actions started in 2017 when four anonymous complaints were filed against her, according to the report. 

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