Investigation finds former top Pentagon spokeswoman misused staff to fetch lunch, drive her around

Donovan Slack
Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana W. White (L) and Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. (R), participate in a news briefing at the Pentagon April 14, 2018 in Arlington, Virginia.

WASHINGTON – Former top Pentagon spokeswoman Dana W. White misused staff to tend to her personal needs, such as fetching lunch and snacks, driving her around and scheduling makeup appointments in her home, an inspector general investigation found.

White, who resigned her position in December, was cleared of accusations she failed to treat staff with respect even as she had them pick up her dry cleaning, retrieve cash from an ATM or research exercise equipment for her personal use.

"In sum, based on the evidence, we substantiated the allegations that Ms. White misused her subordinates' time for personal services and improperly accepted gifts from her subordinates," the Pentagon inspector general concluded in a report released Thursday. 

In the report, a lawyer for White disagreed with the conclusions and said “the tasks in question were all job-related.”

“The government did not suffer any loss, and Ms. White did not realize any gain from them,” said the lawyer, who is not identified by name in the report.

In a statement provided to USA TODAY, White said she is "very disappointed" in the inspector general's findings and blamed the allegations on "disgruntled civil servants." 

"Every decision I made was to advance our mission and maximize our impact," she said. White said the inspector general "unfairly maligned routine acts of kindness done in every office in the Pentagon." 

Federal regulations prohibit using staff for personal tasks. The investigation was prompted by complaints from at least two of her subordinates early last year.

White worked as assistant defense secretary for public affairs under then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis from April 2017 until shortly after his resignation in December.

The inspector general conducted interviews and reviewed emails and other documents and concluded that, when she was at the Pentagon, White tasked aides with buying train tickets for her personal trips, including at least one to New York for a hair appointment. They also made personal medical appointments for White.

She had an assistant submit her personal financial information to federal ethics officials and fax her W-2 tax forms to her personal accountant.

An aide told investigators he retrieved lunch for White 30 or 40 times when she was out of the office at the Capitol or for special events. She also summoned staff to her office and had them go get snacks for her from Pentagon vending machines or stores. An executive assistant drove her back and forth to work at the Pentagon on a snow day in January 2018.

Staff said she had an aide book makeup artists on a weekly basis for Pentagon briefings. In one case, she had staff arrange for a makeup artist to come to her home in preparation for the White House Correspondents Association dinner in 2018. When the artist didn’t show up, White was “livid,” an aide told investigators.

White told investigators she paid for the makeup artists and the food, she considered having aides making appointments for her part of scheduling duties and she denied having staff pick up her dry cleaning.

White’s lawyer contended that the ethics training she received was “spartan” and did not say “or even suggest that ‘private gain’ would include the use of government staff to provide job-related tasks that might not be funded by DoD.”

But the inspector general disagreed.

“We concluded that while one or very infrequent instances of use of a subordinate’s time for personal service may not have been an ethical violation, Ms. White engaged in an overall course of conduct that violated the (ethics rules) when she encouraged, requested or allowed her subordinates to perform numerous services for her that were personal in nature and not related to their official duties,” the inspector general concluded.

Contributing: Associated Press

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Dana White, former Pentagon spokeswoman, misused staff: investigation