Preventing Sexual Harassment:

DOD Needs Greater Leadership Commitment and an Oversight Framework

GAO-11-809: Published: Sep 21, 2011. Publicly Released: Oct 25, 2011.

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Sexual harassment is a form of unlawful discrimination that can jeopardize the military's combat readiness and mission accomplishment by weakening interpersonal bonds and eroding unit cohesion. GAO was asked to examine the most current available data on sexual harassment in the military and to assess the Department of Defense's (DOD) efforts to address this issue. GAO evaluated the extent to which DOD (1) has developed and implemented policies and programs to help prevent and address incidents of sexual harassment involving servicemembers, (2) has visibility over the occurrence of sexual harassment involving servicemembers, and (3) provides oversight of its policies and programs for addressing incidents of sexual harassment. To conduct this review, GAO analyzed DOD and service policies and DOD's available sexual harassment complaint data. GAO also conducted small-group discussions and administered a nongeneralizable survey during site visits to six military installations.

DOD has a long-standing policy aimed at providing an environment that is free from sexual harassment, and each of the military services has implemented its own polices and a program for addressing sexual harassment; however, some aspects of its policy and programs could be improved. For example, according to a 2010 DOD survey, while the majority of active duty servicemembers indicated that they believe that their immediate supervisor makes honest and reasonable efforts to stop sexual harassment, an estimated 25 percent of servicemembers indicated they did not know whether or did not believe their supervisor made such efforts. DOD's survey also found that an estimated 41 percent of servicemembers indicated that in their work group people would be able to get away with sexual harassment to some extent, even if it were reported. Similarly, GAO's nongeneralizable survey of active duty servicemembers found that 64 of 264 females and 53 of 319 males did not believe or were unsure of whether their direct supervisor created a climate that discourages sexual harassment from occurring. GAO also found that DOD has not held commanders accountable for completing required assessments of the equal opportunity climates in their commands. Further, GAO found that DOD does not have adequate guidance on how incidents of sexual harassment should be handled in environments wherein two or more of the services are operating together, resulting in confusion or reducing servicemembers' satisfaction with how complaints are handled. GAO found that DOD has limited visibility over the occurrence of sexual harassment because not all military installations and commands report sexual harassment complaint data to their respective service-level sexual harassment program offices and found that the department does not have a set of uniform data elements with which to collect such data. GAO also found that servicemembers resolve most complaints of sexual harassment informally rather than report them formally. Estimates from DOD's survey found that the majority of servicemembers who felt they were harassed sexually chose not to formally report the incident. Similarly, GAO's survey found that 82 of 583 servicemembers indicated that they had been harassed sexually during the preceding 12 months; of these, only 4 indicated that they had reported the incident formally. GAO found several reasons why servicemembers may choose not to report an incident, including the belief that the incident was not sufficiently serious to report or that the incident would not be taken seriously if reported. DOD has established some oversight requirements but has exercised little oversight of its policies and programs for addressing incidents of sexual harassment. GAO found that the office responsible for overseeing DOD's sexual harassment policies and programs has not developed an oversight framework--including clear goals, objectives, milestones, and metrics for measuring progress--to guide its efforts. For example, although DOD requires the services to provide an annual assessment of their programs, including specific data for sexual harassment complaints, DOD has not enforced these reporting requirements for almost a decade. Moreover, DOD's resources for oversight of this area are limited to one person, who has multiple other responsibilities. As a result, decision makers in DOD do not have the information they need to provide effective oversight, or assess the effectiveness, of the department's policies and programs. GAO is making a total of five recommendations to improve the implementation and oversight of DOD's sexual harassment policies and programs, such as specifying uniform data elements when collecting and reporting complaint data and developing an oversight framework to help guide the department's efforts. DOD concurred with GAO's recommendations and noted it will develop an executable plan, prioritize actions, and address resourcing for the changes recommended.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with our recommendation and stated that leadership accountability is essential to the success of the department's efforts to prevent sexual harassment. To address our recommendation, DOD stated that it would develop an overarching strategy of holding leaders at appropriate levels in the organization accountable for promoting, supporting, and enforcing the department's sexual harassment policies and programs and would include this strategy in revised guidance for DOD's military equal opportunity program. During 2012, DOD reported that it expected to issue its revised guidance in March 2013.In the July 2014 DAMIS report, DOD noted that on May 15, 2014, the Department released the FY 2013 Report on Substantiated Incidents of Sexual Harassment in the Armed Forces and that it was the first comprehensive report on sexual harassment incidents using standardized data and information on substantiated and unsubstantiated incidents of sexual harassment collected from the Military Services and the National Guard Bureau. DOD further noted that the report provides a baseline for identifying and monitoring trends that will be revealed in future reports, and the results will help strengthen and inform Department of Defense policies and efforts to prevent and eradicate sexual harassment, sexual assault, and other forms of demeaning sexist behavior. As described in the Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity (ODMEO) memorandum, dated September 23, 2013 (provided), same subject, DOD noted that, in addition to the proposed DoD Instruction 1020.EF, "Department of Defense Military Equal Opportunity (MEO) Program", its ongoing initiatives to address this and other recommendations in this report will conclude with issuance of the proposed DoD instruction. It further added that three reviews (legal, formal coordination through the Military Departments, and signature) must be accomplished prior to issuance and that it estimates that the Instruction will be published in October 2014.

    Recommendation: To improve leadership's commitment to preventing and responding to incidents of sexual harassment, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to develop a strategy for holding individuals in positions of leadership accountable for promoting, supporting, and enforcing the department's sexual harassment policies and programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with our recommendation and stated it would address this issues as part of an upcoming revision to its guidance. During 2012, DOD reported that it expected to issue its revised guidance in March 2013. In July 2013, DOD published specific guidance identifying responsibilities of the Secretaries of the Military Departments to track military commander''s compliance with updated command climate assessment requirements as directed in the USD (P&R) memorandum and is identified in DoDI 1020.cc, Enclosure 4, "Responsibilities."

    Recommendation: To improve implementation of the department's sexual harassment policies and programs, the Secretary of Defense should direct the service secretaries to verify or track military commanders' compliance with existing requirements that commanders periodically determine their organizational health and functioning effectiveness by periodically assessing their equal opportunity climate through "command climate" assessments.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with our recommendation and stated it would address this issues as part of an upcoming revision to its guidance. DOD noted that the department would collaborate with the services and the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute in preparing this guidance to ensure that service structures, missions, resources, and operational needs are considered. During 2012, DOD reported that it expected to issue its revised guidance in March 2013. In the July 2014 DAMIS report, DOD noted that specific instructions identifying responsibilities of DoD Component Heads and individuals who oversee or operate in a joint military environment to establish a Military Equal Opportunity program that complies with the guidelines of the new instruction and reflects the standards, values, and principles of existing Military Equal Opportunity programs, resources, and counseling services is reflected in DoDI 1020.cc, Enclosure 4, "Responsibilities." DOD further noted that requirements and standard procedures for processing complaints Department-wide including complaints occurring in Joint Environments are described in DoDI 1020.cc, Enclosure 3, "Complaints," which calls for establishment of toll-free advice lines, identifies procedures proscribed by Public Law for processing sexual harassment complaints, and addresses the appeal process among certain other matters related to complaints.

    Recommendation: To improve implementation of the department's sexual harassment policies and programs, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to develop guidance on how incidents of sexual harassment should be handled in environments wherein two or more of the services are operating together.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with our recommendation and stated that it would review the services' existing systems and explore alternatives for establishing reporting requirements. During 2012, DOD reported that the Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity took steps, including holding a workshop in March 2012, with the goal of achieving increased DOD oversight of complaints and creating uniformity in collecting and reporting complaint data. DOD reported that it expected to complete these efforts by February 2013. In the July 2014 DAMIS report, DOD noted that DODI 1020.cc requires the Military Departments to collect, monitor, and report annually on certain elements of their Military Equal Opportunity program to include data on complaints as described in Enclosure 6, "Military Equal Opportunity Program Indicators." DOD further noted that the requirement in DoDI 1020.cc is reinforced by the National Defense Authorization Act FY 2013 congressional reporting requirement for the Military Departments to collect data and information on substantiated incidents of sexual harassment to be submitted on a fiscal year basis to the Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention Response Office (SAPRO) for inclusion in the annual SAPRO report to Congress. Additionally, USD (P&R) provided a copy of the data call memorandum, dated August 30, 2013, and data collection template identifying the common department-wide data elements for reporting and analysis purposes.

    Recommendation: To improve DOD's visibility over formal sexual harassment complaints involving active duty servicemembers, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to take steps to ensure that the services' complaint data are complete and accurate and establish reporting requirements specifying uniform data elements that the services should use when collecting and reporting information on formal sexual harassment complaints.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD concurred with our recommendation and stated that as part of its revised guidance it proposed to strengthen and institutionalize the responsibilities and authorities needed for successful implementation of the department's sexual harassment policies. During 2012, DOD reported that it expected to implement such a proposal in its revised military equal opportunity program guidance. DOD project the department would issue this guidance in March 2013. In the July 2014 DAMIS report, DOD noted that DODI 1020.cc calls for establishment of a senior leadership advisory forum comprised of leaders and managers in the grade of at least senior executive service level or Flag/General Officer, such as the Defense Human Resource Board or its equivalent to provide oversight and an annual review of the DoD Military Equal Opportunity programs and provide advice and recommendations to the USD (P&R) in Paragraph 3, "Policy." DOD further noted that DODI 1020.cc further assigns the responsibility for establishing procedures for senior leader recurring oversight reviews of selected categories of military personnel programs and issuance of data calls that will be used by each Military Service and the National Guard Bureau to establish a framework of recurring analytical reviews to the Director, Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity in Enclosure 4, "Responsibilities."

    Recommendation: To enhance oversight of the department's program to help prevent and to address incidents of sexual harassment involving servicemembers, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness to ensure that the Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity develops and aggressively implements an oversight framework to help guide the department's efforts. At a minimum, such a framework should contain long-term goals, objectives, and milestones; strategies to accomplish goals; criteria for measuring progress; and results-oriented performance measures to assess the effectiveness of the department's sexual harassment policies and programs. Such a framework should also identify and include a plan for ensuring that adequate resources are available to carry out the office's oversight responsibilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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