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Air Force To Release Results Of Cheating Probe


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.


And I'm David Greene. Good morning. We learned earlier this year that some Air Force officers were cheating on proficiency tests. The shocking part was their specialty - handling America's nuclear missiles. Later today, the Air Force will announce the results of its investigation into that cheating. About a hundred officers were implicated; and we expect to hear from the Air Force about how this happened, who should be held accountable, and how to prevent this from happening again.

NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman has learned about some of the key findings, and he's in the studio with us this morning. Tom, good morning.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So what did this investigation find?

BOWMAN: Well, they found the cheating was centered at a nuclear missile base in Montana - Mallmstrom Air Force Base - and this is one of three places in the U.S. where they base intercontinental ballistic missiles. The other two are in North Dakota and Wyoming. They found no evidence of cheating at those bases. But what Air Force officials are expected to talk about today is, they found a culture of cheating throughout the nuclear missile community.

GREENE: Which sounds like something people should really be concerned about, if we're talking about nuclear missiles. So, I mean, what is this culture of cheating? And what kind of tests are we talking about here?

BOWMAN: Well, it revolves around proficiency exams. The questions are along the lines of, you know, which officer is supposed to contact you in various scenarios. How much time do you have to report? Things like that. And as far as the culture of cheating, it centers around promotion and the belief you needed a perfect score to move on in your career. So it's not that they were ignorant of the details of their assignment. And Air Force officials insist that there was never an issue of safety, that these missiles might be in unreliable hands.

Now, the Air Force secretary - Deborah Lee James, who will talk today - has gone on a tour of these bases. And she said there's a need for perfection out there, and it creates an undue stress and fear among these officers about their future careers.

GREENE: I mean, pressure to try and get promoted - that's something a lot of people can relate to. But is there something about this particular assignment when you're monitoring, you know, a weapon that it's almost unthinkable could ever be used that plays into this?

BOWMAN: I think so. You know, some missiliers we spoke with say, listen, this is a grueling and grinding assignment - these aren't glamorous jobs like being an Air Force fighter pilot. You're at a remote base. You go into a bunker eight times a month for 24-hour watches. And some say after a while, you feel stuck in the assignment. So many try to become instructors. And to do that, you had to achieve absolute perfection on these tests.

In fact, the Air Force secretary said last month commanders were using test scores as the sole factor in promotions.

GREENE: Any idea yet what the Air Force is going to do about this?

BOWMAN: Well, Secretary Deborah Lee James said promotions had to take account of more than just those tests; you have to look at the whole officer. And she's going to send a message, listen, you don't have to get a perfect score to get promoted. The Air Force is also looking at incentives like bonus pay, education benefits. And all of these are designed to make these jobs a bit more attractive so these officers don't feel like they need to get out and get a better job in the service.

GREENE: And I guess one question that might be answered today is how the officers involved in this, who have been implicated, might be held accountable.

BOWMAN: Well, again, we're talking about 100 officers implicated and it will all depend on their level of involvement. Some could get letters of reprimand, others could be removed from their jobs. And now the more senior officers, we're told, those in charge, some will likely be removed from their commands.

GREENE: All right. We've been talking to NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman who's reporting on an Air Force investigation into a cheating scandal among nuclear missile officers. Tom, thanks a lot.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.