WASHINGTON — The Army program that sends social scientists to battlefields should be scrapped because it is “plagued by instances of abuse and misconduct,” according to a letter to congressional appropriators from Rep. Duncan Hunter.
Hunter, a Republican member of the Armed Services Committee from California, wrote that the “cost and failures” of the Human Terrain System, along with the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, indicate the program should be ended. He sent the letter to the top members of the defense appropriations subcommittee.
Since 2007, the Army has spent $726 million on Human Terrain System teams, which advise commanders on how improve the lives of civilians in war zones while avoiding bloodshed. The most recent survey of commanders and staff, through March, showed that 95 percent of them find information provided by the teams to be worthwhile, according to Maj. Harold Huff, an Army spokesman. There are nine teams in Afghanistan.
A USA Today investigation of the program, based on Army documents, found concerns about time-sheet fraud, and racism and sexism among team members and staff. In some cases, team members were paid $280,000 annually for work that investigators found questionable. A 2010 Army probe found the program had been “fraught with waste, fraud and abuse.”
The Army maintains those issues occurred years ago and have been resolved. It also plans to continue fielding teams to its forces assigned to regions around the world in coming years, Huff said.
Hunter still questioned the value of the program in light of cuts to training and the size of the Army.
“There’s not enough money or flexibility in the budget to sustain end strength and training but somehow HTS, with all of its issues, is still needed to send social scientists to war zones at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars to U.S. taxpayers,” Hunter said in a statement. “Even if the fiscal environment were different, we really have to question the validity of a program like this and ask ourselves if this is worth spending money on for what’s provided in return.”
Hunter’s recommendation, like those of other members, will be carefully reviewed, said Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., chairman of the defense appropriations panel.