In the wake of a bombshell investigation by CNN on the Coast Guard's failure to respond to reports of sexual assault and harassment at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, Commandant Adm. Linda Fagan announced a 90-day review of service policies, culture and practices to ensure the safety of its members.
In a video last week and a message sent Monday to all Coast Guard members, Fagan and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Heath Jones said the service is committed to fostering a culture where "everyone is treated with the dignity and respect we all deserve."
According to Fagan, the "Accountability Transparency Review" will examine all federal laws, Coast Guard policies, processes, practices, resources and culture that address sexual assault and harassment. The review is expected to produce recommendations for improvement.
"Just as we don't paint over rust on a ship, we will not paint over the rust stain of assault, harassment, bullying, hazing and retaliation," Fagan and Jones said in their prepared remarks.
The review follows a Senate budget hearing last week where Fagan was excoriated for her service's failure to investigate, prosecute or report assaults and rapes at its service academy -- and then failed again to discipline the perpetrators in a subsequent investigation into the incidents.
According to CNN, that earlier follow-on review, dubbed Operation Fouled Anchor, was initiated in 2014 when an academy graduate said her allegation of rape decades before was never investigated. The five-year investigation found 60 substantiated cases of rape, sexual assault and harassment by cadets or at the academy from 1988 through 2006.
But most of the alleged perpetrators never were criminally investigated, and those who remained in the service went on to become senior officers. Many of the alleged victims, however, "left the academy after reporting their assaults" with devastating impacts on their health, relationships and non-military careers, according to the report.
The failure to investigate the allegations at the academy came on the heels of another CNN investigation into the service's lack of oversight over crimes on U.S. flagged ships, including cases of rape and sexual assault that go back decades.
The service is responsible for credentialing merchant mariners and investigating misconduct and crimes on American ships. Despite opening 25 criminal investigations into sexual assaults on ships in the last decade, there have been no successful prosecutions for more than 30 years, according to CNN.
During a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee hearing July 13, Fagan said she learned of the extent of the Operation Fouled Anchor investigation based on Freedom of Information Act requests filed by CNN and the subsequent reports.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., chairwoman of the full committee, said she planned to ask for an inspector general investigation into the lapses, calling them "heartbreaking, maddening, frustrating and intolerable."
"We cannot have the media be the policemen on the beat," Cantwell said. "If I could pass one bill in the entire Congress, it would be the Cantwell-Boozman bill that supports journalism because I think journalism gets us competition, perfect information and is a watchdog. But that is no excuse for the Coast Guard not having a handle on this, and it's not the way you should receive information."
One of her Republican colleagues on the panel also blasted the service academy.
"The Coast Guard Academy's handling of the sexual assault allegations in the 1990s is deplorable, unacceptable and can't happen again. The fact that the organization knew that this had happened years ago but didn't tell anyone is also unacceptable," said Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, the subcommittee's ranking member.
Fagan issued a statement to members on June 30 about the sexual assault cases and how the service failed to address them. She told the senators that it was clear that as recently as 2021, the service had a "culture in areas that is permissive and allows sexual assaults, harassment, bullying, retaliation."
She called this "inconsistent with our core values."
"Everyone in our service has the right to a safe workplace and I encourage any workforce member who experienced or is experiencing harassment, bullying, retaliation, assault or other abuse to seek assistance immediately," Fagan said in the email Monday to service members.
-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Military.com.