Feb. 21 (UPI) -- A senior Pentagon official orchestrated and approved fraudulent bonuses worth $280,000 for officials preparing to leave the department, the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General said Thursday.
An investigation into a series of anonymous complaints found that Defense Intelligence Senior Executive Service Ellen Ardrey allowed senior officials from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to downgrade to non-senior official positions for a pay period before they departed the agency in order to secure a buyout.
"We substantiated the allegation that Ms. Ardrey circumvented DoD policy and wasted government resources," the inspector general's office said.
Evidence showed that Ardrey approved downgrades for seven NGA senior officials in the fiscal year 2017, paying each of them a $40,000 retirement buyout incentive.
Throughout the course of the two-year investigation, the department interviewed 16 witnesses and reviewed more than 31,000 emails and documents.
In the interviews, the department learned that Ardrey complained the process to receive approval for buyouts for senior officials was "onerous" and "slow."
"The juice ain't worth the squeeze on this," she told NGA leadership, according to the investigation.
Ardrey told investigators she believed she was acting legally by offering the opportunity to downgrade their position and receive the buyout package.
A report on the investigation also stated that Ardrey suggested methods to expedite the process for senior officials to receive the buyouts after she allowed one official to downgrade and word of the opportunity "spread like wildfire."
Ardrey issued a statement in response to the investigation, saying she previously used this plan at another Pentagon agency and NGA employees told her the process wasn't prohibited.
"The investigation's preliminary conclusion is based on inference and opinion, with insufficient evidence to substantiate intentional circumvention of DoD policy. The recommendations I developed for the NGA Director's consideration were consistent with policy and followed established authorities," she said.