Senator faults leadership in Air Force sex scandal

An Air Force report investigating dozens of allegations of sexual assault at the service's academy has not adequately addressed the issue of accountability, a senator told an independent panel on Monday.

Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., urged the independent civilian panel investigating the allegations at the Colorado Springs institution to "consider assessing the role of the academy's leadership in addressing sexual assaults." While Allard praised the report's 40 recommendations for improving academy culture and the complaint process, he also criticized the Air Force for refusing to hold leadership accountable for "the climate that resulted in so many alleged sexual assaults." The independent panel, led by former Rep. Tillie Fowler, R-Fla., met for the first time Monday and has 90 days to complete its investigation.

Allard, whose office has been contacted by 60 former and current cadets who alleged they were sexually assaulted at the school, said just removing leaders or absolving those in command at the time for a problem that has plagued the school for years were not sufficient solutions. "They attempt to justify and excuse an extraordinary failure of leadership," he said. "More significantly, they undermine the academy's effort to instill each cadet with the values of responsibility and accountability."

As a result of the scandal, Air Force Secretary James Roche, who also appeared before the panel Monday, replaced three top school officials in March. Roche and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Jumper have been widely praised by Allard and others for their swift response to the controversy and their commitment to putting in place a series of reforms at the school.

Those reforms, known as the "agenda for change," include improving the mentoring system for cadets, providing more training to counselors and ensuring that the school's Board of Visitors has greater access to cadets and an unfiltered view of cadet life. The Board of Visitors includes various officials, including alumni and elected officials, who act as liaisons between the academy's leadership and its cadets. Allard, who is a member of the board, said the group has "been too much of a rah-rah club with too little impact and minimal involvement."

Roche, who was recently nominated by President Bush to serve as Army secretary, said the purpose of the internal report was to provide "a history and statement of facts" surrounding the investigation and not to assign individual blame. Roche said that he and Jumper would use the report to determine whether it is necessary to hold certain people accountable for failing to properly address allegations of sexual assault, and will take their recommendations to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

"You don't all of a sudden hold the last person there responsible," he said. But Roche acknowledged that leaders might not have done all that they should have to correct emerging problems during the mid-1990s when a series of reports from the General Accounting Office and the Defense Department indicated a disturbing trend at the Air Force Academy. "You get the sense that people allowed things to develop over time," he said.

Though Allard commended Roche and Jumper for taking quick action to address the sexual assault scandal, he questioned why it took school leaders, particularly then-superintendent Lt. Gen. John Dallager, so long to act on information that he provided to them in September 2002 about alleged assaults. "It took far too long for academy officials to act on this information and [action] only occurred after numerous victims began contacting my office and the media," Allard said.

Dallager recently retired as planned.

Roche said that an email message from a female cadet in January 2003 made him realize something bad was happening at the academy. The cadet's message "contained so much pain in it," he recalled.