WASHINGTON – When
complaints fall on deaf ears: When an Air Force reservist
from San Diego got fed up with a colonel she claimed made
her work situation intolerable, she turned to a woman with
a bit of clout on military affairs – Rep. Susan Davis.
The San Diego Democrat began making inquires into
Brenda Portwood's complaint that Col. Lonnie W. Smith, a
senior intelligence official at U.S. Central Command in
Tampa, Fla., abused his authority by improperly suspending
her security clearance and forcing her to take unnecessary
mental health tests.
“Our office simply acted as a liaison (for) Brenda,”
said Davis spokesman Aaron Hunter, whose boss sits on the
House Armed Services Committee, along with fellow San
Diegan Duncan Hunter, who is the panel's chairman. “She
wrote up (a) request for an inquiry and we forwarded it”
to the U.S. Department of Defense.
Portwood is an Air Force chief master sergeant – one of
the highest enlisted posts in the military – with nearly
30 years of service and, according to a Tampa Tribune
report, glowing references.
She first complained
about Smith through the U.S. Central Command's internal
channels, claiming Smith questioned her relationships with
colleagues, suspended her security clearance, forced her
to take a mental health exam and suggested she consider
ending her military career. She told the Tampa Tribune
that she suspected Smith wanted to replace her with
someone of his own choosing.
When her complaints went unheeded, she turned to Davis.
Last fall, the Defense Department's inspector general
began a probe of Smith's management tactics, including an
allegation that the colonel retaliated against a different
reservist who complained that Smith improperly used his
influence to find a job for his son-in-law, Stephen
Federal nepotism laws bar public officials from hiring
or influencing the hiring of relatives. Late last month,
military officials escorted Smith from the Central Command
headquarters where he worked, saying only that Smith had
While Davis spokesman Hunter said, “The office has
received no indication that Brenda's request led to the
probe of Smith,” something certainly happened to change
the minds of military officials who up until last autumn
had refused to take seriously the complaints of Portwood
IT'S THAT SEASON
For sunscreen, yes, but also for federal dough. Various
appropriations bills are moving through Congress. These
typically enormous and thoroughly mind-numbing bills
include the legislative equivalent of a federal check for
thousands upon thousands of projects.
One of those checks, in the Senate-passed bill designed
to fund the U.S. Interior Department, comes to nearly half
a million dollars for Oceanside's Mission San Luis Rey,
which needs at least $5 million for earthquake
retrofitting and to upgrade electrical and well-water
The 205-year-old mission church is built of wood and
adobe – a fire disaster waiting to happen. The mission's
well-water system can't really handle modern plumbing
requirements or potential fires, like the one that erupted
in 2003 in a brushy area on the mission's 55-acre grounds.
Thus, the mission needs to hook into city water lines,
an expensive proposition. In addition, it must upgrade a
1920s-era electrical system that can't handle printers and
fax machines, and it must repaint deteriorating adobe
SOMETHING TO DO
Rep. Brian Bilbray finally has some work to do as the
newly elected congressman from the 50th district. Last
week, House leaders assigned the Carlsbad Republican to
three committees – Armed Services, Government Reform and
Veterans' Affairs Committee chairman Steve Buyer, an
Indiana Republican, noted Bilbray's history as a Navy brat
who was born at Coronado Naval Air Station. “He brings to
his constituency a unique level of experience, having
served the people of San Diego County as a mayor, county
supervisor and congressman,” Buyer said.
Bilbray will have a San Diego-area colleague on each
panel: Fellow Republican Duncan Hunter is chairman of
Armed Services and Democrat Susan Davis is a member, while
Democrat Bob Filner is the ranking Democrat on Veterans'
Affairs and Republican Darrell Issa is a subcommittee
chairman on Government Reform.
Dana Wilkie is a Washington-based correspondent for Copley
News Service and a longtime observer of California
politics and social issues.