Gaming the system?

USA Today has an article that would lead you to believe that a couple of folks all but defrauded the government by taking advantage of a recruiting referral bonus program.

WASHINGTON — The Army paid a Texas couple nearly $4 million for supplying it with names of recruits who may have enlisted without their help, part of a bonus program blasted by a leading senator as a “mind-blowing” waste of taxpayer money, according to interviews and documents.

The Army’s Referral Bonus Program — hatched in 2006 during the darkest days of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and buried in 2009 — paid as much as $2,000 per recruit. It mirrored a National Guard program so plagued with kickbacks that more than 800 soldiers have fallen under criminal investigations in the last few years, according to Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, the ranking Democrat on the financial and contracting oversight subcommittee.

Military investigators branded the scheme “sleazy but legal,” McCaskill wrote in a letter to top Pentagon officials.

Maybe. Maybe not.

Please note, recruiters themselves were not the recipients of bonuses. Recruiters receive their base pay, allowances for housing and rations, and incentive pay for special duty. They are not eligible for bonuses specifically to remove the temptation to recruit unethically.

In this case, Rene Agosto and his wife Vanesssa were smart enough to read what the bonus program entailed, and, being good entrepreneurs, implemented a business plan that maximized profit for minimal effort. It’s certainly not their fault the US government decided to offer a bonus to people referring others for enlistment.

Was the bonus referral program a good idea? I dunno. In 2006, at the worst of the Iraq War, recruiting was facing some pretty significant challenges. The Army already had to relax standards somewhat to bring in enough manpower.

As to Sen. McCaskill’s claim that the people referred by the Agosto’s would have joined anyway, I have my doubts. One of the greatest challenges recruiters had was developing quality contact information on prospects. Yes, there is already an Army website that does essentially that. How effective it was in the 2006-2009 timeframe, I don’t know. I do know that it was wholly ineffective during my timeframe in my locale. And obviously, the Agosto’s were finding quite a few valid prospects to forward to recruiters, or they’d not have received such a payout.