IG Rebukes Former Pentagon Spokeswoman for Making Staff Run Her Errands

Dana White, the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, briefs reporters at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., May 3, 2018. (DoD/U.S. Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)
Dana White, the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, briefs reporters at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., May 3, 2018. (DoD/U.S. Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

Editor's Note: This story has been updated with comments from Dana White.

Dana White, the former Pentagon spokesman under Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, misused her subordinates' time to run errands for her during and after work hours, according to a new investigation report.

The Defense Department Inspector General's office on Thursday substantiated various allegations, brought to the office last year, that White squandered her staff's time to conduct services such as booking her "personal travel, obtaining lunch and snacks for her, scheduling makeup appointments at her residence, making an ATM cash withdrawal on her behalf, ordering personal stationery for her, driving her to and from work on a snow day, and dropping off and picking up her dry cleaning."

"We substantiated the allegation that Ms. White misused subordinates' time to conduct personal services for her and that, in doing so, she accepted gifts from her subordinates," the report states.

In a statement sent to reporters late Thursday afternoon, White pushed back strongly on the IG's findings, saying she was "disappointed" the watchdog had substantiated "allegations raised by two disgruntled civil servants."

"Every decision I made was to advance our mission and maximize our impact," she said in the statement. "I relied and acted on the advice of the DOD Office of General Counsel to make all of these decisions. The [IG], however, chose to ignore this fact."

The IG listed other improper errands performed by staff for White, including making personal medical appointments; obtaining financial disclosure paperwork; printing W-2 tax forms; assisting with White's mortgage paperwork; researching personal exercise equipment; buying pantyhose; and ordering office flowers, as well as ordering personal flowers for a funeral.

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White testified that she reimbursed her employees on several occasions, such as the pantyhose incident, but the IG determined the initial actions constituted accepting gifts, which violates Joint Ethics Regulation (JER), Section 2635.705b. The rule stipulates an employee cannot "encourage, direct, coerce, or request a subordinate to use official time to perform activities" other than his or her official duties.

In her statement, she said the IG had "unfairly maligned acts of kindness done in every office in the Pentagon."

Some of the IG's findings, she said, referred to flowers she had purchased with her own money to brighten her office and a make-up artist she had personally paid for.

"Such investigations and conclusions will deter political appointees from reforming a bureaucracy that is ineffective, antiquated and fiercely protected by too many civil servants wedded to the status quo and under serving the American taxpayer," she said. "[IG's] propensity to validate such petty accusations effectively protects mediocrity, undermines performance and thwarts change."

The events occurred between January and mid-May 2018, according to the report. White joined the Pentagon public affairs team in April 2017.

The IG said it did not substantiate allegations that White "failed to treat subordinates with respect," though there were complaints regarding White's behavior.

The complaints alleged White "verbally yelled at or 'dressed down' two of her subordinates when they did not schedule a makeup artist's visit, when flowers were not delivered on time for a funeral, and when a subordinate left office telephones unattended while handling Ms. White's dry cleaning."

After speaking with witnesses and the complainants themselves, it was determined White may not have yelled, just given stern objection on at least one occasion.

"Ms. White's voice while 'yelling' was about a 5 or 6 on a scale of 1 to 10, and … her normal voice was about a 3 on the same scale," the IG quoted a witness's description.

"We did not substantiate the allegation that Ms. White failed to treat subordinates with respect," the IG said.

The office also did not substantiate an allegation that Charlie Summers, then the principal deputy assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs, failed to take appropriate action to stop White from misusing her staff's time.

It was reported that Summers knew of White's behavior but failed to intervene. The IG determined that Summers talked to White about her improper behavior after two DoD public affairs officers approached him about the issue.

"We concluded that Mr. Summers' course of action in talking directly with Ms. White about misusing her subordinate's time to perform personal services for her was reasonable," the report states.

Summers became the acting assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs following White's resignation on Dec. 31, 2018. Jonathan Hoffman, previously the assistant secretary of homeland security for public affairs, has since taken over in that role, with Summers back in the deputy position.

White formerly was a policy aide to the late Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona; she also previously worked as director of communications for the Renault-Nissan Alliance in France.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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