National Security

Pentagon still mishandling military whistleblower cases, report finds

Members of the military line up for a deployment
Members of the military line up for a deployment MCT

Military personnel who report retaliation for blowing the whistle on wrongdoing confront a dysfunctional bureaucracy and long delays, according to an assessment by Congress’ watchdog agency.

The Government Accountability Office found the problems when it analyzed about 124 military whistleblower reprisal cases overseen by the Pentagon inspector general’s office, U.S. officials familiar with the draft of the report told McClatchy. The final report is due out soon.

“The report raises questions about whether uniformed personnel are getting fair treatment and whether the Department of Defense’s inspector general’s office can be trusted to resolve these cases,” said one of the officials. The official asked not to be named because the report has not been published.

In an email, Bridget Ann Serchak, spokeswoman for the Defense Department’s inspector general, said her agency “cannot comment . . . on reports not in the public domain.”

The GAO also declined to comment until the report is released.

The findings are expected to spark a new round of criticism from Democrats and Republicans in Congress who’ve been pushing the Pentagon inspector general’s office to improve its handling of whistleblower reprisal investigations.

The report echoes the GAO’s conclusions in 2012 that the Pentagon inspector general’s office “cannot be assured that it is effectively conducting its oversight responsibilities or implementing the whistleblower reprisal program as intended.”

A Pentagon inspector general team found fault during an internal review in 2011 with almost 70 percent of military reprisal cases it reviewed.

“It shouldn’t take this long to fix these things,” said the official with knowledge of the latest report. “The same problems have been popping up for years.”

The Pentagon inspector general is supposed to be keeping tabs on the inspectors general of the military services who investigate these cases, but its oversight is weak and inconsistent, the GAO concludes in the unpublished report.

Although the Pentagon inspector general’s office has tried to improve its tracking of cases and increased staff dedicated to whistleblower reprisal cases, long delays are still a problem. A new tracking system has “limited reporting capabilities,” the GAO found.

In yet another example of the flawed handling, the Pentagon inspector general’s office and the service inspectors general routinely fail to notify the whistleblower, the secretary of defense, and the head of the armed service branch in which the whistleblower is serving that an investigation of reprisal will take longer than 180 days to investigate.

Such a notification is required by law to ensure that whistleblowers don’t face significant delays when they file a complaint.

According to the GAO’s assessment, military reprisal investigations on average take more than 500 days. Yet almost half the time, the Defense Department inspectors general do not send the required delay notification.

McClatchy has reported that the problems at the Pentagon inspector general’s office are more extensive than just how military reprisal cases are handled.

Multiple former and current officials from the Pentagon inspector general’s office have alleged to the Office of Special Counsel, the independent government agency that investigates whistleblower claims, that they’ve been retaliated against for objecting to how cases are handled.

Meanwhile, less than 20 percent of retaliation claims since 9/11 have been investigated by the Pentagon inspector general’s office, according to a McClatchy analysis late last year. The rest were thrown out after a preliminary analysis or no investigation.

Only 4 percent have been substantiated, McClatchy found. In private industry, the substantiation rate is said to be three times higher.

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