WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is expanding a Pentagon review of hiring at military day care centers to include Defense Department schools, youth centers and other facilities where children are present.
Pentagon press secretary George Little said Wednesday that officials are also questioning why it took three months for the Army to inform Panetta about arrests and problems with background checks at a day care center at Fort Myer, Va. Two people were arrested in September on multiple charges of assault against children at the Fort Myer center.
Little also said reports that parents of children at the center weren’t told about the problems indicate there may have been a serious breakdown in communications.
“We need to do everything we can wherever our children are entrusted to the care of DOD-employed personnel to insure we have the right personnel with the right background taking care of them,” said Little. “We want to insure that there’s consistency in the standards and policies and practices in hiring wherever military youth are involved.”
Panetta on Tuesday ordered a military-wide review of hiring at day care centers shortly after the Army disclosed problems with security background checks of workers at Fort Myer. Little said Pentagon leaders were surprised to hear of the problem and that “clearly this information did not get reported up the chain of command as quickly as we think it should have.”
The actions stem from the Sept. 26 arrests of two Army employees. One was charged with five counts of assault and the second was charged with four counts of assault.
But the problems at Fort Myer apparently went much deeper. Indications are that at least 30 workers at the facility have histories that call into question their suitability to care for children, according to two officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation into worker backgrounds at Fort Myer has not been completed.
After the Fort Myer arrests, the Army replaced the day care center’s management team and found what the Army called “derogatory information” in the background of an unspecified number of other employees there. Army officials did not reveal the information, and officials said it’s not clear if the background checks were not done, were not sufficient or simply were not used appropriately in screening personnel.
Col. Fern Sumpter, the Fort Myer commander, said the day care center was closed “out of an abundance of caution” and the children moved to a separate day care center at Fort Myer. A Fort Myer spokeswoman, Mary Ann Hodges, said the center was closed on Dec. 13.