From 1998 through 2007, sources outside the federal government paid for more than 22,000 trips worth at least $26 million. While these trips are generally permitted under federal regulations, military watchdogs say the system is broken. Allowing the drug industry to send military pharmacists to Las Vegas or letting a Saudi prince pay a top official’s way to Riyadh, they warn, can create serious conflicts of interest. Defense officials say these trips are thoroughly vetted to guard against impropriety.
According to the analysis:
- The medical industry paid for more travel than any other outside interest — more than $10 million for some 8,700 trips, or about 40 percent of all outside sponsored travel. Among the targets: military pharmacists, doctors, and others who administer the Pentagon’s $6 billion-plus annual budget for prescription drugs;
- Foreign governments paid more than $2.6 million for 1,500 trips. The biggest sponsors: U.S. allies Australia, Singapore, and Japan, but the list also includes China, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates;
- Manufacturers of retail goods paid for more than 500 trips, at a cost of about $470,000. Their targets included buyers at on-base retail outlets, which sold more than $12 billion of merchandise in 2007. Among the sponsors: Nike, Skechers, Mattel, and Sony;
- Thousands of the trips were taken to popular vacation spots such as San Diego, Las Vegas, Honolulu, San Remo and Venice, Italy, and Jeju Island, South Korea. Among the guests were spouses, who participated in at least 240 of the trips.
The travel disclosure records, submitted in paper form to DOD’s Office of Government Ethics, were digitized and sorted in a joint project by the Center and Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.