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Pentagon misconduct complaints increase; fewer found guilty

WASHINGTON — The number of complaints filed against senior military and defense officials has increased over the past several years, but more cases are being rejected as not credible and fewer officers are being found guilty of misconduct, according to data from Defense Department investigators.

Overall, there were 803 complaints filed in the fiscal year that ended last Sept. 30, compared to 787 the previous year. But just 144 were deemed credible and investigated by the IG, and 49 senior officials were eventually found guilty of misconduct. Allegations against the officials often involve ethical misconduct — such as having an inappropriate relationship — but they also include violating travel rules, wrongly accepting gifts, sending subordinates on personal errands or treating workers badly.

The data was released this week during a House Armed Services personnel subcommittee hearing. Glenn Fine, who is serving as the Pentagon’s inspector general, said the decline in the number of cases being investigated is due to a more thorough screening process of the complaints that come in. As a result, he said, about one-third of the cases that are investigated are ultimately substantiated. That rate is a bit lower than last year, but much higher than previous years. The rate in 2008 was just 14 percent.

Senior military leaders also told the panel that they are seeing far more so-called whistleblower complaints that can trigger investigations and stall careers, but only a tiny fraction of the alleged offenders are found guilty.

Fine told the House panel that just two whistleblower cases charging a senior official with retribution were substantiated in the 2017 fiscal year, compared to three in each of the two previous years. Whistleblower cases usually allege that an officer or superior has retaliated against a lower ranking service member or worker for making some type of complaint.

According to Fine, the number of retribution complaints filed against senior officials increased from 145 to 165 over the past five years. But, more broadly, complaints against all department individuals jumped by nearly 80 percent over that same time period.

“Whistleblower reprisal has skyrocketed because of the misuse and misapplication of whistleblower reprisal against senior officials. It is off the charts,” Lt. Gen. David Quantock, the Army’s inspector general, told the committee, noting that just 4 percent of the Army cases are substantiated. He said the complaints are often made by a soldier or civilian after they have been held accountable for misconduct or poor performance.

“The resulting claim of reprisal creates challenges for senior commanders who hold people accountable, and then are faced with an inspector general whistleblower reprisal investigation,” he said.

Fine said that he is hiring a fulltime whistleblower ombudsman to help make sure troops and workers understand their rights and responsibilities and to help prevent reprisals.

Lawmakers raised concerns about whether military investigators can effectively cast judgment on officers in their own service, and they questioned whether civilians should do those jobs. They also asked if offenders are treated equally across the services — or if officers might be disciplined differently for the same offense depending on what service they belong to.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., said she’s concerned that lower-ranking service members are treated more harshly for violations than senior officers are.

“There is a phrase in the military that goes like this, ‘Different spanks for different ranks,’” she said. “Many senior leaders who should be the essential core of the chain of command are not being held to the same standard as the rank and file. This corrupts fairness, justice and morale.”

Fine said only a small minority of senior leaders are guilty of misconduct. He added that the IG’s office is looking into ways to help standardize investigations and also track and record cases in similar ways.

The inspectors general also told the committee that they are understaffed, have large backlogs, and it can often take 200-400 days to investigate and complete a case.

Allegations against military and defense officials often involve ethical misconduct — such as having an inappropriate relationship — but they also include violating travel rules, wrongly accepting gifts, sending subordinates on personal errands or treating workers badly.

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Kale to go: Amazon to roll out delivery at Whole Foods

NEW YORK (AP) — Amazon is bringing its speedy delivery to Whole Foods.

The online retail giant plans to roll out two-hour delivery at the organic grocer this year to those who pay for Amazon’s $99-a-year Prime membership. It is the company’s biggest move since it bought the organic grocer last year.

It’s also precisely the action rivals have been preparing for since the day Amazon — with the Prime program that’s been so successful in cementing customer loyalty — announced plans to buy Whole Foods.

Amazon shoppers can order meat, seafood and other Whole Foods grocery items through the Prime Now app and website. Deliveries started Thursday in Austin, Texas; Cincinnati; Dallas; and Virginia Beach, Virginia; and will expand nationwide this year.

One of the biggest hurdles for the growth of grocery delivery is that many people want to pick out their own eggs or fruit, said Darren Seifer, a food and beverage industry analyst at NPD Group.

“There are always going to be people who want their bananas a little green,” he said.

Ade Ogbomo, a teacher in Dallas, said she orders everything from Amazon — except food.

“I like to get it myself,” she said outside a Whole Foods store. She worries about the possible mishaps: “Maybe the bananas are bruised or the cookies are all broken up, and you can’t really complain because you asked for it.”

About 7 percent of U.S. households bought groceries online last year, according to NPD Group. Most of those — about three-quarters — get their orders delivered to their door; the rest pick it up at the store. NPD Group said it expects online grocery shopping to grow quickly, especially among young adults, who are more comfortable shopping online.

And grocery chains don’t want to miss out when that happens.

Walmart, the country’s largest grocer, is making it easier for customers to order groceries online and pick them up at the store. Target bought grocery-delivery company Shipt late last year. Kroger, the largest traditional supermarket chain, has been promoting store pickup for online orders and doing trials of home delivery.

For Amazon, items will be pulled from Whole Foods stores, bagged and then delivered by Amazon drivers. Amazon, based in Seattle, said there’s no extra fee for two-hour deliveries above $35, but one-hour delivery will cost $8. The company isn’t saying where delivery will expand, but its Prime Now service is in more than 30 cities, including Chicago, Milwaukee and San Diego.

The announcement gives Amazon yet another way to get groceries to customer’s doorsteps.

It already does so through AmazonFresh, but that requires a $15-a-month fee. And Prime Now delivers groceries from its facilities, but it has also offered grocery delivery from other physical stores, including Whole Foods rival Sprouts Farmers Market.

Whole Foods also offers delivery in some cities through a partnership with delivery service Instacart, which will continue.

Buying Whole Foods was the biggest part of a push into physical retail for the chain known for online shopping. Right after taking over Whole Foods, Amazon made a splash by cutting prices on bananas, yogurt and other items. It also began selling Kindle e-readers in some of its 470 stores, and started selling Whole Foods-branded food on its site.

Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune 

Third-grader Evan Sheehan learns CPR on a training dummy during a presentation Thursday at First Evangelical Lutheran School in La Crosse. Firefighters and staffers from Mayo Clinic Health System-Franciscan Healthcare taught CPRE and AED techniques to students after a ceremony honoring second-grader Kenzie Smith.

Marc Wehrs / Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune 

The former La Crosse Plow Co. building at 525 N. Second St. is on the National Register of Historic Places, a status that makes it eligible for tax credits when renovated.