Pentagon IG Lags in Clearing Whistleblower Reprisal Cases
GAO warns delays in notification may discourage reports of wrongdoing.
The Defense Department’s inspector general office—which processes complaints from service members alleging mistreatment by superiors after they reported wrongdoing—is too slow to close cases and notify affected parties of results, the Government Accountability Office determined.
“The absence of regular status updates, such as revised case-completion estimates when time frames shift, may discourage service members from coming forward to report wrongdoing,” auditors wrote in a report released Thursday. The IG’s “newly developed case management system, which it established to improve monitoring, is separate from the service IGs' systems, limiting DODIG's ability to provide oversight of all military reprisal investigations,” GAO said.
A review of reprisal investigations in 2013 and 2014 found that the department failed to meet statutory 180-day notification requirements in about half of reprisal investigations closed in fiscal 2013. In addition, the average investigation time for closed cases in fiscal years 2013 and 2014 was 526 days, almost three times the department’s 180-day requirement, auditors found.
Based on a random sample of 124 cases, GAO found no evidence that the IG sent the required notification letters in some 47 percent of the cases that took longer than 180 days to close, despite previous GAO recommendations.
While acknowledging the IG’s efforts to make improvements through a new case management system, GAO found the system did “not have a record of at least 22 percent of service-conducted reprisal investigations that were closed in fiscal years 2013 and 2014 and investigations open as of September 30, 2014.” The Pentagon IG lacks a tool for automatically alerting managers when they’re nearing the 180-day mark, GAO said. “DOD does not have formalized processes to help ensure effective oversight of military whistleblower reprisal investigations conducted by service IGs.”
GAO also studied reasons for closing cases with no action taken against supervisors. “The most common reason for closing a case was that DoDIG determined that the responsible management official would have taken the personnel action absent the protected communication,” the watchdog concluded.
GAO made seven recommendations, among them that the Defense secretary coordinate with the IG to automate alerts and issue new guidance to investigators on using the case management system.
DoD Inspector Jon Rymer accepted the criticisms but disagreed with “the manner in which the report’s findings are presented,” protesting GAO’s “failure” to include information on the IG’s progress in tracking complaints and improving oversight of investigators. “The DoD IG takes seriously our role in leading the Whistleblower Protection Program for the Department of Defense,” Rymer wrote. “We remain committed to protecting whistleblowers from reprisal.”