(CNN) -- The U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff are putting the finishing touches on an initial review of ethics standards for senior officers, to meet a December 1 deadline for a report to President Obama.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta ordered the review earlier this month after several incidents of reported improper behavior among senior officers, although officially the Pentagon claimed the timing was coincidental.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, has gathered some initial ideas from the chiefs of the military services and will send his plan to Panetta on November 30. Dempsey is now moving ahead with "forming a discussion group of retired, respected generals and admirals, and possibly academics and chaplains, to look at professional ethics and our profession of arms," said his spokesman, Col. David Lapan.
In addition, the chiefs are taking a closer look at where there may be "gaps" in ethics training and in regulations for all officers, Lapan said. He noted that Dempsey has already spoken extensively on what he calls "the profession of arms" and the need to ensure the military has the right professional framework.
Lapan said issues such as the number of Navy commanders relieved for wrongdoing and poor behavior, and even the widely publicized case of an Army staff sergeant charged with killing Afghan civilians have added to concerns about ethics overall.
Last summer, Dempsey ordered his staff to look at ethics training and it seems adequate so far, Lapan said. But with two four-star officers recently under investigation for inappropriate spending on their expense accounts, the basic issue of ethics remains at the forefront.
One issue Lapan said, is "how we can and should adjust levels of support to senior military leaders based on our responsibility to be good stewards of the resources given to us in a more austere fiscal environment."
Panetta has been taking a hard line against misconduct. He ordered former Army four-star Gen. William Ward demoted to three stars at retirement and made to pay back $82,000 in expenses he wrongly charged to the government while on duty.
Dempsey had recommended Ward be allowed to retire as a four-star general.
"He (Dempsey) would say that he expects our service members to be held accountable for their behaviors and choices, regardless of rank," Lapan said.
"His expectations are highest for our highest-ranking officers. Under our system, discipline can take many forms such as a formal reprimand and repaying the government for misspent funds. In addition to adverse administrative actions, real fiscal and reputational costs are certain consequences," Lapan said.
In another case, Dempsey's legal staff, along with Panetta's, both recommended an inspector general investigation into potentially "inappropriate" e-mails written by Gen. John Allen, commander in Afghanistan. That investigation could now have the impact of derailing Allen's nomination to be the military head of NATO if he is not cleared relatively soon.
Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford is expected to be confirmed by the Senate as Allen's replacement in Afghanistan in the coming days. If Dunford goes to Afghanistan to take charge before Allen's fate is decided, according to one Senate aide, "Allen would go into a holding pattern. This happens often for a few months' period, though the circumstances in this case are unique. During that time, they'd make use of him either here at the Pentagon or maybe at Central Command."
If it becomes clear that he won't win confirmation, said the aide, then Allen would most likely retire.
The spokesman for the Pentagon said Tuesday said there is time for the investigation to continue.
"This wasn't going to be an immediate switch out of commanders (in Afghanistan). So we have some time to work deliberately to manage this process in the appropriate manner and to do justice not only to the process, but to the individuals involved," spokesman George Little told reporters at a Pentagon briefing.