The Navy cheating scandal, a separate Air Force investigation of cheating by nuclear missile launch officers, and recent charges of wrongdoing by flag and general officers has Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel concerned about a possible "breakdown in ethical behavior" throughout the military, Rear Adm. John Kirby said.
"I think he definitely sees this as a growing problem," Kirby, the Pentagon Press Secretary, said of Hagel.
"As a department, we don't fully know what we're grappling with here and how serious it is," Kirby said a Pentagon briefing.
To get answers, Hagel has named retired Gen. Larry Welch, the former Air Force chief of Staff, and retired Adm. John Harvey, the former chief of Naval Personnel, to make recommendations based on their review of an upcoming report to Hagel by the Air Force on leadership issues stemming from the cheating scandal.
Hagel was concerned that "maybe he doesn't have a full grasp of the issue," Kirby said. "He's definitely concerned about the direction here" as scandals continue to emerge and expand, Kirby said.
The Navy's investigation of suspected cheating on tests by senior enlisted staff at its premier nuclear propulsion training facility has expanded to at least 30 sailors, or about one-fifth of the supervisors on base, a Navy official said Wednesday.
Currently, there are about 150 nuclear engineering watch supervisors at Joint Base Charleston, S.C., and 30 of them have been barred from the site as the cheating probe by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service continues, the Navy official said.
At a Pentagon briefing on the Navy scandal Tuesday, Adm. John Richardson, director of the Naval Nuclear Program, said that probably fewer than 20 supervisors were initial suspects.
However, Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the chief of Naval Operations, cautioned at the same briefing that NCIS investigation was just beginning and "we don't know where it's going to go. We may find more. We're in the early stages of this."
The nuclear propulsion program is one of the prides of the fleet since it was formed by the late Adm. Hyman Rickover, and Greenert's presence to announce the investigation signified how seriously the Navy was taking the allegations.
Navy officials said the suspect sailors allegedly cheated on written tests they were taking to be certified as instructors at the nuclear propulsion school. More senior sailors allegedly passed on exam information to those taking the tests, the officials said.
If the cheating charges are substantiated, those involved would likely be dismissed from the Navy, Richardson said.
At the Pentagon briefing, Greenert was asked whether the Navy cheating scandal and an unrelated cheating scandal involving Air Force nuclear launch officers indicated a military-wide lapse of ethics. "If I knew that answer, I would be doing all kind of things within the Navy," Greenert said.
The Air Force scandal also escalated quickly. Last week, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said the Office of Special Investigations was focusing on at least 92 officers suspected of cheating on monthly proficiency tests, all of them at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont.
When the scandal was first announced, the total stood at 34 officers.