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Project on Government Oversight

Leaked Assessment Says Deficiencies Have Plagued the Military Whistleblower System

The Defense Department’s system for investigating alleged military whistleblower retaliation has struggled with insufficient resources, not enough training for investigators and other problems, according to a July 2009 Justice Department Inspector General (IG) report obtained by POGO. 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.

“The Wikileaks experience is a reminder that there should be safe harbors inside the government for military personnel to blow the whistle. We are glad to see the DOD IG added resources into this essential program, but this is a problem that can't be fixed just by throwing money at it - the laws need to be strengthened,” said Nick Schwellenbach, POGO's director of investigations.

The Justice IG report, A Review of the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General's Process for Handling Military Whistleblower Reprisal Allegations, was undertaken at the request of the DOD IG Gordon Heddell. It focuses on the Pentagon 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.  In March 2009, POGO issued Inspectors General: Accountability is a Balancing Act that raised concerns about effectiveness of the MRI.

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.”

The 2009 DOJ IG report states:

“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.”

While POGO is encouraged by the report of progress to Congress, we will be watching closely to ensure the Justice IG roadmap for 12 reforms of the MRI is accomplished. But even with these reforms we recognize there are far too many limitations in the law protecting military whistleblowers.

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.