Report Assails Coast Guard for Failing to Address Harassment, Bullying
WASHINGTON – Officers at the U.S. Coast Guard’s New London facility failed to conduct prompt, thorough and impartial investigations of harassment and bullying allegations, according to a report issued by two congressional committees on Thursday.
The report, called “Righting the Ship,” also found Coast Guard leaders did not hold officials accountable for deficient investigations and didn’t take corrective action to address retaliation against people who reported harassment and bullying. It concludes the service needs to make “significant improvements” in its policies and procedures.
The investigation began 18 months ago at the behest of the late Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., then the ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Rep. Bennie Thompson, D- Miss., then the ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security.
Each man assumed the chairmanship of his respective committee after the Democrats regained control of the House following the 2018 election. Cummings died in October, and Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., became the chair of the Oversight and Reform Committee.
The investigators found significant inequities and a poor climate faced by women and minorities, faculty and staff at the academy, including black cadets being subjected to higher rates of discipline than their non-black peers.
In addition, the report said, in July 2019, 45 percent of female cadets reported they had experienced sexual harassment in 2018 – an 11 percent increase over what was reported in 2016.
“Documents reviewed by the Committees reinforced concerns regarding the climate and culture at the Academy, which educates the future leaders of the Coast Guard and is central to the service’s efforts to set and reinforce its values,” the report said. “The Academy must make major reforms to address disparities and improve its culture.”
“This report shows that the Coast Guard repeatedly swept allegations of bullying and harassment under the rug, and did not hold senior officials accountable for their actions,” Rep. Maloney said. “No employee should ever feel unsafe at work or worry about retaliation for sounding the alarm on misconduct.”
“These systemic issues should not only alarm the leadership at the Coast Guard Academy—but also Coast Guard headquarters,” Thompson said. “Coast Guard leadership must address these serious matters now.”
The Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation and Maritime Security were scheduled to hold a joint subcommittee hearing Wednesday to discuss the report’s findings.
The report set forth seven recommendations intended to rectify the situation. These were:
- Leadership should seek to ensure that convening orders identify the specific allegations to be investigated, including the names of the complainants, the alleged victims, and the alleged perpetrators;
- Leadership should ensure that qualified investigators are free of even the appearance of a conflict of interest and are independent of the unit in which the allegations occurred;
- Leadership should ensure that individuals assigned to investigate allegations of harassment and bullying are appropriately trained in conducting such investigations; Leadership should establish guidelines regarding the process for adjudicating complaints on the basis of investigatory findings;
- Leadership should ensure that investigative reports meet the standards set forth in the Coast Guard’s Administrative Investigations Manual;
- Leadership should prohibit actions that could have a chilling effect on complaints or interfere with investigations; and
- Leadership should ensure that anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies and procedures are followed.
A Coast Guard spokesman said the service has made changes this year to the way it handles allegations, including updating its civil rights manual to ensure appropriate oversight and visibility and creating new, required training.
The Coast Guard will give any recommendations from Congress due consideration, Lt. Cmdr. Scott McBride said.