During a recent House Armed Services subcommittee meeting, Defense Department investigators told lawmakers that complaints against senior military and defense officials have been increasing over the past several years. That said, more of these cases are being turned away as unsubstantiated and fewer officers have been found guilty of misconduct.
The misconduct allegations range from ethics complaints to violations of travel rules, accepting inappropriate gifts and using subordinates to perform personal business.
In Fiscal Year 2017, which ended on Sept. 30, there were a total of 803 complaints. That was up from 787 the previous year. However, only 144 were deemed credible enough for investigation by the inspector general. Ultimately, 49 officials were found to have committed misconduct.
The current Pentagon IG said that the reduction in cases being investigated is due to a more restrictive screening process for complaints.
He also said that about a third of cases that end up being investigated are substantiated. That was slightly fewer than last year but a vast increase from previous years. For example, the Associated Press said that the substantiation rate in 2008 was 14 percent.
There has been a rise in whistleblower complaints, too, but according to the officials, only a tiny fraction of them result in findings of guilt. In FY 2017, the IG said, only two whistleblower cases accusing a senior official of retaliation were substantiated. In the past two years, there were three such cases each year.
These complaints, in which lower-level personnel raise legitimate concerns and then come to believe that they are suffering retaliation from above, jumped from 145 to 165, on average, over the past five years.
The Army’s inspector general seemed not to take whistleblower reprisal cases very seriously, even though they are often the only way evidence of wrongdoing comes forward.
“Whistleblower reprisal has skyrocketed because of the misuse and misapplication of whistleblower reprisal against senior officials. It is off the charts,” he said. He went on to imply that most whistleblowers are troublemakers who cry retaliation when they have merely been held accountable for their own misconduct or poor performance.
The Pentagon IG, on the other hand, said that he is about to hire a full time ombudsman to help whistleblowers understand their rights and responsibilities and to reduce the risk of reprisals.
Some lawmakers questioned whether military investigators can effectively investigate or cast judgment on officers in their own service branches who outrank them.
If you have a complaint against a military service but fear reprisal, we strongly recommend consulting with a federal employment law attorney before lodging that complaint. A lawyer can help you strategize and protect your rights when filing a complaint.