Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Friday said he will appoint a senior officer to be a liaison between himself and the service secretaries and service chiefs to tackle an increasing number of ethical lapses and scandals across the services.
Hagel has not selected the official yet, but promised it would be a senior ranking general, and one with experience ranging from the combat theater to curriculum and training.
The move follows recent revelations of exam cheating among Air Force and Navy personnel working with nuclear weapons and reactors. These scandals followed a report by the Washington Post exposing a host of investigations that included generals accused of sexual assault, drinking on the job and corruption.
"Ethics and character are absolute values we can't take for granted but have to be constantly reinforced," Hagel told an afternoon press conference at the Pentagon. "An uncompromising culture of accountability must exist at every level of command. That must be practiced and emphasized by leadership at every level. Like at all institutions, it starts at the top."
Hagel called the effort "a top priority," and said the officer he appoints will work daily with the service secretaries and brass, including Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, to assess and fix the problem.
He said he will meet with the officer weekly to hear reports on what is being done.
Currently, both the Air Force and Navy have investigations into allegations of widespread cheating by airmen and sailors on proficiency exams. The Air Force has suspended 92 Air Force nuclear missile officers suspended at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., where they are accused of cheating on monthly proficiency tests or not reporting knowledge of the scam.
In the Navy, 32 senior noncommissioned officers training to be instructors on nuclear reactors have been accused of cheating on their own tests, according to officials.
Meanwhile, court documents in a federal case allege a federal contractor bribed multiple Navy officers in exchange for information on ship schedules and cooperation in steering Navy ships to ports where the company could reap higher fees.
The increased reports of sexual assault have been a recurring embarrassment to the services in recent year. Congress is now looking at different pieces of legislation intended to change the way sexual assault cases are handled in the military.
In one of the most recent cases, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus forced the resignation of a senior civilian because of alleged sexual misconduct with a subordinate.
Mabus asked for the resignation of Robert Martinage, a Navy undersecretary, "following a loss of confidence in Martinage's abilities to effectively perform his duties," the Navy said in a statement in January.
Hagel would not speculate on whether the problems could be a fallout from the long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"I don't think there is one simple answer to the issue of ethics, values lapses in some of these areas," he said. "That's why were taking a hard look at this. I think we need to find out if there is a deep, wide problem. If there is, then what is the scope of the problem, how did it occur? Was it a constant focus on 12 years of two long land wars, taking our emphasis off some of these other areas?"
"It's not as simple as one or two things," he said. "But we intend to find out."