The Defense Department and military service inspectors general begged Congress for more resources as some personnel investigations are backlogged almost two years.
“We have over 200 cases that are open at this time and we are just now getting to our 2016 cases so there is some lag time because of the number of investigations,” Naval Inspector General Vice Adm. Herman Shelanski told the House Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee Feb. 7.
While the Navy held the most egregious backlog, all of the services and DoD said they were in dire need of employees to address investigation delays.
“We have 50 open senior official cases going on right now. I have 20 investigators. I could easily double that. The average case is about over 400 days,” Army Inspector General Lt. Gen. David Quantock said.
DoD Principal Deputy Inspector General Glen Fine said his 1,600 person department could easily use another 100 employees to handle investigations.
Fine was unable to provide a number of backlogged cases for the committee.
“We do have staffing issues. The complexity, the number of cases that have risen, the number of cases that we have to do, and we take them seriously, we take each of them seriously and you can only do more with less for so long. It does affect the timeliness of the investigations and how long [those under investigation] are hung up … [Inspectors general] are not the first people you think of when you need to grow the military, but you need to grow them,” Fine said.
The self-proclaimed staffing issues come as the Pentagon and military are dealing with a wave of senior personnel misconduct.
The number of allegations received by the DoD IG against senior DoD officials increased over the past several years. There was a 13 percent increase in complaints alleging misconduct by senior officials from 2015 to 2017.
During that period there were more than 170 substantiated senior official misconduct cases.
“The most common allegations involved personal misconduct including improper relationships, improper personnel actions, misuse of government resources, and travel violations. The substantiation rate increased from 26 to 37 percent for investigations conducted by [DoD] IG and the IGs for the military services, Defense agencies, and combatant commands. In the category of personal misconduct, there has been a steady trend in substantiated allegations of improper relationships and sexual misconduct,” the report stated.
From 2013 to 2017 there were 346 corrective actions taken against senior officials. Eighty one of those are still pending and in 29 instances the military services declined to take action.
Fine told Congress the IG office is taking actions to speed up some of its cases. Those actions include standardizing guidelines for how to conduct investigations, standardizing the case management system and bettering antiquated IT systems.
Quantock said his whistleblower reprisal division has 20 employees of its own, but could use 20 more due to its workload.
In his opening statement, Quantock called out abuses in the whistleblower reprisal process.
“The substantiated rate for whistleblower reprisal cases is 4 percent. A significant factor in the low 4 percent substantiated rate is misuse of the whistleblower reprisal process. This typically occurs when a Soldier or civilian is held accountable by a senior official for misconduct or poor performance, following a protected communication. The resulting claim of reprisal creates challenges for senior commanders who hold people accountable, and then are faced with an Inspector General whistleblower reprisal investigation,” Quantock said.
Quantock added “the reason why the numbers are so high from the DoD IG about the rise in complaints is because of the misapplication of whistleblower reprisal. [The whistleblower protection] law is good. It talks about gross waste of funds. It talks about intent to kill or cause serious bodily injury to members of the armed forces. It talks about grievous things, not downgrading an award. That’s the problem, we have hijacked the system and there is a dark cloud over the general officer corps and right now we are getting hammered.”
House Armed Services Committee Personnel Subcommittee Ranking Member Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) seemed to disagree with Quantock’s sentiment.
She noted the Navy is currently embroiled in the Fat Leonard scandal, one of the biggest scandals to rock a military service, and yet no one felt able to bring it to authorities.
“Whistleblower protection, I would argue, is not enough protection and that’s why people don’t come forward because they fear there will be reprisals. There are too many people that were engaged in conduct unbecoming of officers in that case and no one called them out,” Speier said.
Each week, Defense Reporter Jared Serbu speaks one-on-one and in depth with the people responsible for managing the inner workings of the federal government's largest department, and those who know it best. Subscribe to the latest episode on PodcastOne or iTunes.