Office of Complex Investigations Should Update Policies to Require Additional Documentation for Sexual Assault Cases
GAO-19-109: Published: Dec 12, 2018. Publicly Released: Dec 12, 2018.
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The National Guard has an office that investigates sexual assault allegations. Its investigations have no criminal outcomes, but can result in consequences like discharge from the National Guard.
The office is only authorized to investigate cases that
have a connection to the National Guard, and
are not fully investigated by military or civilian law enforcement
The office is not required to keep documentation verifying that all of its cases meet these criteria. Therefore, it can't be sure that it's only investigating the cases it's allowed to take. We recommended including this supporting documentation in the case files.
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What GAO Found
The National Guard Bureau's (NGB) Office of Complex Investigations (OCI) was established in 2012 to conduct administrative investigations into allegations of sexual assault that are not criminal in nature and are conducted only when criminal law enforcement entities, such as military criminal investigative organizations or local civilian law enforcement, have declined or do not have jurisdiction to investigate and a National Guard nexus has been identified. Since 2013, OCI has completed approximately 380 investigations of allegations of sexual assault at the request of state National Guard officials and 5 assessments of state National Guard units to review the current culture, policies, and practices for the handling of sexual assault, among other things. State National Guard officials told GAO that OCI provides the states with an unbiased or impartial third-party review of reported incidents of sexual assault. OCI is primarily funded through amounts made available for the Sexual Assault Special Victims' Counsel Program in the Department of Defense's (DOD) annual defense-wide Operation and Maintenance appropriation. This funding has increased from approximately $1.4 million in fiscal year (FY) 2014 to almost $5 million in FY 2018; which OCI officials attributed to increasing demands for OCI's services. OCI uses trained National Guard members temporarily assigned to the office as investigators.
NGB guidance establishes OCI investigation policies and OCI has implemented controls to help ensure key policies are followed. However, OCI has inconsistently documented how case acceptance criteria have been met. GAO's analysis of a sample of 27 case files from 5 states from FY 2016 and FY 2017 found that OCI generally adhered to key investigation policies. For example, in accordance with its policies, in all 27 case files GAO reviewed, OCI had included the state National Guard's requests to initiate an OCI investigation and executive summaries explaining OCI's determination of whether or not the allegation was substantiated. Furthermore, NGB has established two case acceptance criteria—specifically that a National Guard nexus exists and that coordination with at least one criminal investigative organization occurred. According to OCI officials, state National Guard officials are to verify these criteria are met before submitting requests for OCI to initiate an investigation of sexual assault. NGB has developed a template with standardized language that includes these criteria that the states should use. While OCI's case files included the request letters with standardized language from state National Guards indicating the state National Guard staff had determined the case acceptance criteria were met, they did not consistently include supporting documentation to verify how the case acceptance criteria were met. This is because NGB policy does not require such documentation to be included in OCI's case files. Without such documentation, OCI does not have reasonable assurance that the cases it accepts for investigation adequately meet the two criteria for case acceptance.
Why GAO Did This Study
Sexual assault incidents involving military service members can devastate victims and have far reaching impacts for DOD due to the potential for these crimes to undermine the department's core values, degrade mission readiness, and raise financial costs.
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 included a provision that GAO review, among other things, the purpose and structure of OCI and its adherence to policies. This report (1) describes OCI's services and budgetary and staffing resources; and (2) evaluates OCI's policies for investigations and internal controls to ensure its policies are consistently followed. GAO analyzed OCI policy, budget, and staffing documents and interviewed OCI, DOD, Army, and Air Force officials. GAO also interviewed National Guard officials and analyzed case files for select years from a nongeneralizable sample of five states.
What GAO Recommends
GAO recommends that DOD require OCI to include supporting documentation in case files to verify a National Guard nexus exists and referral to the appropriate law enforcement organization occurs. DOD concurred with the recommendation.
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Recommendation for Executive Action
Comments: DOD concurred with this recommendation. As of January 2019, the National Guard Bureau stated that it has begun the process of updating the regulatory guidance for the Office of Complex Investigations to include supporting documentation that establishes the National Guard nexus and documents the type of coordination made by the requesting state with law enforcement. When we confirm these actions have been taken, we will update this recommendation's status.
Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, in coordination with the Office of Complex Investigations, includes a requirement in its guidance to collect and maintain supporting documentation as part of its case files that verifies whether and how (1) the National Guard nexus exists, and (2) the allegation has been referred to the appropriate military criminal investigative organization or civilian law enforcement organization prior to opening an OCI investigation. (Recommendation 1)
Agency Affected: Department of Defense