Congress May Require Military to Make Top Brass Misconduct Public

Defense Secretary James N. Mattis and Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, provide testimony on the Fiscal Year 2018 Defense Budget Request to members of the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington D.C., June 13, 2017. (DoD/Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)
Defense Secretary James N. Mattis and Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, provide testimony on the Fiscal Year 2018 Defense Budget Request to members of the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington D.C., June 13, 2017. (DoD/Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

A subcommittee markup of the National Defense Authorization Act would require the secretary of defense and military service secretaries to post reports of misconduct by generals and admirals, and those of equivalent civilian rank, so they are accessible to the public.

The House Armed Services subcommittee on military personnel released its markup of the fiscal 2019 defense budget bill Wednesday, one step in the complex process of the bill passing the House and Senate and becoming law.

The 121-page document contained language requiring all substantiated investigations of senior leader misconduct to be made public.

"This section would require the Secretary of Defense and the Secretaries of the military departments to publish, on a public website, redacted reports of substantiated investigations of misconduct in which the subject of the investigation was an officer in the grade of O-7 and above, including officers who have been selected for promotion to O-7, or a civilian member of the Senior Executive Service," the section reads.

Currently, such investigations can be requested through the Freedom of Information Act, but are not automatically made public if they are not requested.

The prevalence and severity of misconduct among the senior ranks has been a common topic of conversation on Capitol Hill in recent months.

At a February hearing of the personnel subcommittee, ranking member Jackie Speier, D-California, complained that there appeared to be "different spanks for different ranks," meaning that top brass seemed to get lighter punishments for their misdeeds.

She highlighted five specific cases in which military generals had been found guilty of serious misconduct. In three, the violations came to light outside the military only because a journalist inquired or a FOIA request was filed.

"As you will see, these senior leaders committed serious crimes and rule violations, yet received only light administrative, not judicial, punishments," Speier said. "Most got no public scrutiny until journalists inquired about their cases."

A handful of new allegations has spurred additional criticism.

Earlier this month, the Marine Corps removed its one-star head of Marine and Family Programs after he allegedly told troops and civilians at a town hall-style meeting at Quantico, Virginia, that allegations of sexual harassment by another officer were "fake news."

While the Marine Corps proactively sent news releases about Brig. Gen. Kurt Stein's suspension and eventual firing, some have complained because he did not face additional loss of pay or rank.

More recently, Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, President Donald Trump's nominee to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, has had his confirmation process put on hold amid allegations he drank on duty and committed other misconduct.

While it's not clear if any of the allegations against him were substantiated in military investigations, the case highlights the lack of public information about wrongdoing at the highest ranks.

Following subcommittee markups, the NDAA must pass a full committee markup, be reconciled with the Senate version of the bill, and approved by both houses before it can go to the president to be signed into law.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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