On May 5, Air Force Times ran a letter to the editor by Gen. Roger Brady, USAF (Ret.), titled “Insubordination on A-10.” In it, Brady criticized A-10 advocates in the Air Force for a lack of “good order and discipline,” and defends Major General James Post, former vice commander of Air Combat Command, who was removed in April after saying that airmen speaking to Congress about the A-10 were committing “treason.” Brady writes “The ethos of military professionals requires that senior leaders make decisions….Individuals of lesser rank and responsibility are obliged to support those decisions, or depart service.” In other words, according to Brady, an airman who reports waste, fraud, or abuse is violating his sworn duty.
The Project On Government Oversight called for General Post’s removal, and the Air Force acted, because such communications are protected. Whistleblowers are often uniquely positioned to reveal problems, making their ability and willingness to speak out paramount to ensuring an effective federal government, including the national defense. They play a critical role in the safety and security of Americans and guard the federal government against waste, fraud, and abuse. Military whistleblowers go beyond that; their disclosures frequently protect the lives of their brothers and sisters in arms.
Writing for Task and Purpose, Lt. Col. James W. Weirick, USMC (Ret.), a judge advocate, explains the legal protections provided to whistleblowers and the ways in which they are misconstrued by Gen. Brady. Brady calls whistleblowers “insubordinate,” but Weirick explains that, per the Uniform Code of Military Justice, “insubordination only occurs when an enlisted member disobeys the lawful order of a noncommissioned or petty officer. So any discussion of insubordination regarding Air Force officers communicating with Congress is inapposite.” Weirick concludes that if Brady’s reasoning and knowledge of the facts are representative of senior Air Force leadership, it is all the more important that whistleblowers continue to come forward.
Though Brady is retired, his comments add to the conversation that the Pentagon’s handling of whistleblower cases leaves much to be desired. In May of this year, the GAO released a report on whistleblower protections that found the Department of Defense Inspector General’s Office (DoD IG) took almost three times the limit to investigate military whistleblower complaints, lacked a comprehensive system for tracking those complaints, and had no “formalized process to help ensure effective oversight of military whistleblower reprisal investigations conducted by service IGs.” According to the GAO report, an Office of Personnel Management survey found 18 percent of DoD employees and a quarter of DoD IG employees did not feel they could report waste, fraud, or abuse without fear of reprisal. These findings follow on the heels of a 2012 GAO report that uncovered many of the same problems in how the DoD IG investigates retaliation.
Our servicemembers deserve real protections for reporting wrongdoing, including accountability for those who illegally retaliate against whistleblowers. This year Senator Boxer (D-CA) and Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA) introduced the Legal Justice for Servicemembers Act to enhance protections for military whistleblowers, including requiring the DoD IG to recommend disciplinary action against those they find to have retaliated against whistleblowers. Elements of this legislation have been included in the House’s National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2016, and we hope to see its full incorporation in the final bill.