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Report: Ex-Pentagon Wounded Warrior Boss Bullied Staff, Broke Laws

Former Wounded Warrior Care and Transition Policy's Principal Director Philip Burdette (left) is seen here standing for a photo with other Pentagon officials and actor Sean Astin at the Care Coordination Summit in 2011. DoD photo
Former Wounded Warrior Care and Transition Policy's Principal Director Philip Burdette (left) is seen here standing for a photo with other Pentagon officials and actor Sean Astin at the Care Coordination Summit in 2011. DoD photo

The former head of the Pentagon's Wounded Warrior Care and Transition Policy Office misused government resources, tried to influence a defense contract, bullied subordinates and even detailed a contractor to work as a caddy for a charity golf game, military investigators found.

A Defense Department Inspector General's report released on Monday also recommended the agency take "corrective action" against Philip A. Burdette. However, the Pentagon would not say if any actions have been taken against him.

"The department can't comment on ongoing personnel issues," Pentagon spokesman Army Maj. James Brindle told Military Times, which first reported the IG report.

The report, which was made available publicly on Tuesday, concluded that Burdette sought to influence a contract to benefit a subcontractor.

Burdette was appointed to the Senior Executive Service in March 2010 and a year later was made director of the Wounded Warrior policy office, according to the IG report. He is currently a special assistant and senior adviser to the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.

Burdette's subordinates, the IG report states, described morale under him as poor and criticized his leadership skills. They described him as a "bully" who intimidated them with threats of punishment, and said he would refer to employees -- when not in his presence -- as liars and criminals.

The IG investigators interviewed 19 witnesses, including members of the Senior Executive Service, senior government service civilian employees and contractors who had frequent workplace interactions with Burdette, the report said.

"We asked [them] if he resolved problems in a constructive manner," the report said. "No one replied affirmatively; three indicated they were undecided and 16 stated 'no.' Further, we asked the same 19 if Mr. Burdette's leadership inspires and fosters trust: No one replied affirmatively; two were undecided and 17 said 'no.' "

The investigators also said in the report that they "offered ten witnesses, who worked closely with Mr. Burdette, the opportunity to provide positive remarks regarding his leadership and conduct with his subordinates. Many stated he had no positive leadership characteristics."

The IG quoted Burdette from prior testimony as saying that when he arrived in the position, he was told "to improve the [Wounded Warrior policy offices'] performance and solve problems, and he made decisions based on ensuring the vision of [the office] was carried out."

"Mr. Burdette stated he added discipline, accountability, and a sense of urgency to deliver results for wounded service members and their families," the report said.

Burdette also told the IG he "absolutely resolved conflicts" in a constructive manner and worked to instill trust.

"He stated he did not yell or scream at subordinates, but at times he used an 'elevated tone of voice,' " the report said. "He also stated his feedback to subordinates is blunt, delivered in a measured tone and is directed at work products, not individuals."

Additionally, the IG concluded that Burdette:

  • Misused a government employee by ordering him to work as a caddy for a charity golf event, but then claimed it was his own boss who issued the order.
  • Did not account for his own work time, including not concluding an 8-hour workday on- or off-site for 43 days, but drawing pay for the missed 119 ½ hours.
  • Frequently inserted himself into a DoD subcontract for the purpose of benefiting a subcontractor he had previously invited to a Veterans Day ceremony at the White House and to a holiday reception hosted by the Marine Corps commandant.
  • Extended a Defense Department business trip to Colorado in January 2012 in order to go skiing, even getting reimbursed for the rental car he used to ride to the slopes.

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com.

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Wounded Warriors