Military Personnel:

The DOD and Coast Guard Academies Have Taken Steps to Address Incidents of Sexual Harassment and Assault, but Greater Federal Oversight Is Needed

GAO-08-296: Published: Jan 17, 2008. Publicly Released: Feb 19, 2008.

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Incidents of sexual harassment and assault contradict the academies' core values to treat all with dignity and respect. Yet, since 2003, each of the Department of Defense (DOD) academies and the Coast Guard Academy has experienced at least one incident. In 2003, Congress directed DOD to establish programs and to submit annual reports, and although not required, the Coast Guard Academy, within the Department of Homeland Security, has taken similar action. GAO was asked to review sexual harassment and assault programs at the academies. This report evaluates (1) the academies' programs to prevent, respond to, and resolve sexual harassment and assault cases; (2) the academies' visibility over sexual harassment and assault incidents; and (3) DOD and Coast Guard oversight of their academies' efforts. GAO analyzed data for program years 2003 through 2006, reviewed requirements, met with service and academy officials, and interviewed randomly selected students at each academy.

The academies have taken steps to prevent, respond to, and resolve sexual harassment and assault incidents. Each DOD academy, for example, has created and staffed the position of Sexual Assault Response Coordinator. Additionally, the DOD and Coast Guard academies have established training programs aimed at preventing and responding to future incidents. The academies have also established alternatives for responding to and resolving reported incidents, depending on whether the incident involves harassment or assault, and in cases of assault, whether the victim wishes to make a restricted report--privately disclosing the incident to select response service providers without triggering an investigation--or an unrestricted report--which involves investigative authorities and the chain of command. A few of the reported sexual assault cases have resulted in formal charges. The academies collect sexual harassment and assault data, but student perceptions in surveys administered in 2006 indicate that incidents may be underreported, suggesting that the academies may not have full visibility over all sexual harassment and assault incidents. For academy program years 2003 through 2006, the DOD academies' military equal opportunity offices reported 32 sexual harassment cases, the Sexual Assault Response Coordinators reported 25 restricted cases of sexual assault, and the military criminal investigators reported 96 unrestricted sexual assault cases. However, estimates from DOD's most recent survey of its academy students, which was administered in March and April 2006, suggest that approximately 200 female and 100 male students may have experienced "unwanted sexual contact" in the previous year alone. Coast Guard Academy data show similar results. While DOD has established an oversight framework for its academies' sexual harassment and assault programs, its oversight has not been integrated and comprehensive, and the Coast Guard headquarters has not established an oversight framework. For example, inconsistencies exist in the way sexual harassment and assault data have been collected and reported because the department has not clearly articulated data reporting requirements. Further, DOD is unable to fully evaluate the academies' programs because it has not established measures to analyze incident data, survey results, and academy programs. Also, DOD has been only minimally addressing congressional interest in academy programs because it has not been conducting a comprehensive and integrated analysis of academy data or programs before forwarding academy reports to Congress. As a result, it has been difficult for DOD and Congress to judge how well the academies are addressing these important issues. It appears that DOD has very recently taken steps to address these concerns. Although the Coast Guard has performed a limited assessment of its academy's sexual harassment activities, it does not report statistics to Congress. In addition, the Coast Guard headquarters has not established guidance with which to oversee and evaluate its academy's efforts. Consequently, the Coast Guard headquarters lacks measures of how well its academy may be addressing incidents of sexual harassment and assault.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Congress, in September 2008, passed Public Law 110-329, which included a provision requiring the Coast Guard (to include the Coast Guard Academy) to conduct an assessment of sexual assault in its service and adhere to sexual assault data reporting requirements similar to those required of DOD. The Coast Guard Academy complied with this requirement and submitted the first annual report in 2009.

    Matter: Congress may wish to consider requiring the Coast Guard Academy to submit sexual harassment and assault incident and program data for the annual report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Academies and to participate in surveys and appropriate qualitative methods that produce results that are methodologically comparable to those required of and administered by DOD. Including the Coast Guard Academy in these annual reports and reviews will provide Congress with a more comprehensive integrated and uniform assessment of sexual harassment and assault programs at all of the U.S. military academies.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 2012, we met with officials in OSD's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) to discuss improvements to DOD?s Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies. SAPRO indicated that the academy report for APY 2010-2011 included the elements we recommended in 2008 as necessary to improve the usefulness of the report. Following the meeting, we reviewed the report and found that the report did address the elements of our recommendation by including things such as an assessment of compliance and the identification of best practices, action items, and program deficiencies. Therefore, we agree that the inclusion of these elements constitutes a comprehensive integrated assessment of academy sexual assault and harassment programs.

    Recommendation: To improve visibility and oversight of reported incidents of sexual harassment and assault at the DOD service academies, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to provide Congress with a comprehensive integrated assessment of the successes, challenges, and lessons learned from academy sexual harassment and assault programs in future annual academy sexual harassment and violence reports.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In February 2010, GAO reported that OSD had developed an oversight framework for its sexual assault prevention and response (SAPR) programs, but that it does not yet contain performance measures, which are needed to facilitate the evaluation of program performance and the identification of areas needing improvement. Currently, OSD has plans to develop a standardized set of performance measures and targets by the second year of its 3-year plan for implementing its oversight framework. While this finding generally refers to the military service's SAPR programs, it also applies to the academies in that each academy is governed by its corresponding service's policies. In May 2011, OSD officials told us that they were continuing to work towards the development of performance measures, but that efforts to reorganize the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office had slowed progress in this area. In January 2012, GAO met with SAPRO officials who provided a copy of the Defense Manpower Data Center

    Recommendation: To improve visibility and oversight of reported incidents of sexual harassment and assault at the DOD service academies, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to establish evaluative performance measures that effectively assess academy sexual harassment and assault programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its February 2010 report on sexual assault in the military services, GAO reported that OSD and its stakeholders have started to create a standardized set of sexual assault data elements and definitions. However, the standardization is not yet complete, and OSD officials stated that developing definitions and data elements for and training the numerous program personnel worldwide on how to consistently report on the data elements collected, is very complex and time-consuming. OSD officials added that the standardization of data definitions is something that they expect to accomplish in the near term, while standardizing data elements will take longer since it is a task that will be completed in conjunction with their development of a centralized sexual assault database. In May 2011, DOD's efforts to standardize data elements and definitions is ongoing and OSD officials asserted that this will be completed in conjunction with the implementation of the Defense Sexual Assault Incident Database, which is expected to be operational in 2012. In January 2012, GAO met with officials in the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) who provided templates that it gave to the military services to request data for fiscal year 2011 and 2012. GAO reviewed those templates and found that SAPRO defines each data term to help ensure that the services are using common terminology when compiling their data. GAO agrees that this template constitutes a clear articulation of data reporting requirements and includes common terminology. Therefore, GAO considers this recommendation to be implemented.

    Recommendation: To improve visibility and oversight of reported incidents of sexual harassment and assault at the DOD service academies, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to clearly articulate data reporting requirements to include common terminology.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: To date, the Coast Guard has not developed an oversight framework to guide its program development and implementation. To its credit, the Coast Guard revised its program instruction to clarify departmental oversight roles, and it has developed an action plan that broadly defines program goals, objectives, strategies, milestones, and criteria. However, based on our prior work on developing and enhancing program oversight, the Coast Guard?s efforts do not sufficiently encompass the key components of an oversight framework. For example, the Coast Guard's action plan does not contain performance measures, nor does it identify how it plans to use the results of its program evaluations to revise its future program objectives. Furthermore, the strategies identified in its action plan are too vague to enable an assessment of whether they would help achieve program goals and objectives. Coast Guard provided us with an update in April 2012 in which it noted that its online tracking and reporting system would not be operational until the end of 2012.

    Recommendation: To improve Coast Guard headquarters' oversight of reported incidents of sexual harassment and assault at the Coast Guard Academy, the Commandant of the Coast Guard should establish a management oversight framework for the Coast Guard Academy to include data collection, maintenance, and reporting requirements, management goals, performance measures, and milestones to evaluate progress made toward addressing the incidence of sexual harassment and assault.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Coast Guard

 

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