Services' Daycare Scandal Report Due Yesterday

Children play outside the Child Development Center at Fort Myer, Va. Adam Skoczylas/U.S. Army

Military service secretaries were scheduled to report to the Secretary of Defense on Monday the results of a worldwide review of hiring and firing procedures at base daycare centers and the possibility of more arrests emerging from an ongoing federal criminal investigation.

“It’s correct to say that we continue to investigate this case,” said Peter Carr, a spokesman for the office of Neil H. MacBride, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

The scandal at Fort Myer blindsided Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who was not told of the arrests and the audit until Dec. 18. An “angered and disappointed” Panetta then ordered up a worldwide review of the hiring and criminal background check procedures at the more than 900 daycare and youth facilities in the military serving 500,000 children daily.

The service secretaries were to report back to Panetta on Monday, Jan. 21, on the results of the review. The Army, separately, has also been conducting an Article 15-6 investigation under the Uniform Code of Military Justice to determine facts and make recommendations on the operations of the Installations and Management Command (IMCOM), which has oversight of the daycare centers.

Federal marshals in late September arrested two workers at the Army’s Fort Myer, Va., Child Development Center for mistreating toddlers. The misdemeanor assault charges triggered an audit that turned up at least 31, and possibly as many as 38, other employees of the Fort Myer CDC who had criminal records, including two for sex offenses.

In what could be a public airing of grievances on the daycare centers, the Defense Department has scheduled a meeting of the Military Family Readiness Council on Tuesday with Jessica Wright, the acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness.

The meeting, which will include military spouses, was previously scheduled and was not related to the service secretaries’ reports on the daycare centers, said Navy Cmdr. Leslie Hull-Ryde, a Pentagon spokeswoman.

Army officials declined to say whether the review had turned up instances of arrests or employees with criminal records at bases other than Fort Myer. Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Navy’s chief of Public Information, said the initial review showed no arrests or workers with criminal records at Navy facilities. The Air Force declined comment, and the Marine Corps did not immediately respond.

The Navy has 133 CDCs worldwide employing about 3,800 daycare workers, said Patrick Foughty, a spokesman for Navy Installations Command.

Foughty said the Navy complies with Defense Department regulations on background checks to include fingerprint checks with the FBI.

The Army follows similar procedures, but senior Defense Department officials and Army spokesmen at the Installations Management Command have been unable to come up with an explanation as yet on how more than 30 employees at the Fort Myer CDC slipped past the vetting on criminal records.

A senior Defense Department official said it could have been negligence in conducting the background checks, if they were done at all.

The Fort Myer scandal has put pressure on Army Secretary John McHugh to take corrective action. When the Fort Myer situation went public, President Obama made an unusual late night phone call to McHugh to ask about the problems at Fort Myer, and what McHugh was doing about them.

McHugh’s office did not respond to requests for comment on the Army’s daycare review. Shortly after Obama’s phone call, McHugh released a statement:

"It's a fundamental responsibility to ensure the highest quality of care for the children of our men and women in uniform, many of whom rely on us to care for their children while deployed. These initial findings are not only troubling, they are unacceptable, and we will make certain that adequate policies and procedures are in place, and that they are strictly followed and fully enforced."

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