The release of more than 250,000 State Department cables by self-proclaimed whistleblowing website WikiLeaks has sparked discussions on a variety of topics, including U.S. diplomacy, excessive secrecy, information-sharing inside the government, and First Amendment rights. But largely absent from all the WikiLeaks-sparked chatter is a well-informed discussion about the state of whistleblower protections, specifically for members of the military.
On Monday, POGO made public a previously unreleased 2009 government report that deals with this very topic: “A Review of the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General's Process for Handling Military Whistleblower Reprisal Allegations” by the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General.
This report details some reasons why the military whistleblower system has struggled in the recent past.
While Army Private First Class Bradley Manning—who is believed to have provided the State Department cables to WikiLeaks—may or may not have utilized a stronger military whistleblower system, there are plenty of others in uniform who would prefer to work within the system to highlight wrongdoing.
For instance, the number of military whistleblower retaliation allegations “more than doubled” from less than 300 in 1997 to nearly 600 in 2007, the previously undisclosed report notes. These are just the folks who officially reported that they believe they were retaliated against for blowing the whistle.
The vast majority of these allegations are not substantiated by the Defense Department (DoD) Office of Inspector General (OIG) or the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, or Navy OIGs. A lack of substantiation does not necessarily mean they did not blow the whistle or they were not retaliated against for blowing the whistle, it simply means the complainant working with the investigator(s) could not prove to the evidentiary standard that the alleged retaliation was in connection to whistleblowing.
One of the major hurdles military whistleblowers face in trying to prove they were retaliated against is the higher evidentiary threshold they must deal with compared to civilian whistleblowers.
But leaving this aside, there have been problems with military offices charged with investigating whistleblowing claims and allegations of whistleblower retaliation. That’s what the report POGO made public this week focuses on.
The July 2009 Justice Inspector General report was undertaken at the request of the DoD IG Gordon Heddell. It focuses on the DoD IG's Directorate of Military Reprisal Investigations (MRI) and MRI's oversight of the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, and Navy IGs, which do many of the reprisal investigations.
Among the 2009 DOJ IG report’s findings:
- “The biggest challenge MRI faces is timeliness. MRI has not been able to come close to resolving complaints within the statutory 180-day deadline.”
- “The failure of MRI to meet consistently the statutory time deadline is largely a function of insufficient staffing to handle the large and growing number of reprisal allegations.”
- “The service IGs need “greater oversight, training, information sharing, and guidance.”
- “Maintaining an adequate level of staffing and experience at field IG offices is a constant challenge. They said that field IGs compete for resources with military components engaged in military actions around the world....Field IG investigators are transient positions and often have little experience and time to develop investigative expertise.”
- “We found that the military reprisal program has not had a high profile within the DOD OIG. One senior DOD OIG manager told us that MRI matters are rarely discussed within the OIG and substantiated cases of reprisal are not publicized.”
- “We believe that MRI should do more to ensure that cases delegated to the service IGs are assigned for investigation outside the chain of command of the involved parties.”
According to the DoD IG’s March 2010 semi-annual report to Congress, there has been significant progress in implementing the Justice IG report recommendations, “including additional staffing, improved policies and procedures, communications with complainants and service IGs, and obtaining authorizations for dedicated training staff.”
In March 2009, POGO raised its own concerns about effectiveness of the MRI in its report, Inspectors General: Accountability is a Balancing Act.