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Report: U.S. Coast Guard Must Improve How it Handles Bullying

By The Maritime Executive 12-11-2019 07:23:54

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, the Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, have released a joint staff report finding that the Coast Guard mishandled complaints of harassment and bullying and failed to hold those in leadership accountable for their actions.

Based on the review of thousands of pages of documents and information obtained through interviews with Coast Guard personnel, as well as a staff visit to the Coast Guard Academy, the investigation found the Coast Guard military leadership has failed to conduct prompt, thorough and impartial investigations of allegations of harassment and bullying, has failed to hold officials accountable for deficient and incomplete investigations and has failed to take action to redress harassment.

The investigation was initiated 18 months ago, and the investigation occurred amid reports of significant inequities faced by women and minority cadets, faculty and staff at the Coast Guard Academy. For example, black cadets have been subjected to substantially higher rates of discipline and pass courses at a lower rate than their peers. In July 2019, 45 percent of female cadets reported that they had experienced sexual harassment in 2018, an 11 percent increase over what was reported in 2016.

On Wednesday, the Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation and Maritime Security held a joint subcommittee hearing to discuss the findings of the report. 

Maloney said: “This report shows that the Coast Guard repeatedly swept allegations of bullying and harassment under the rug and did not hold senior officials accountable for their actions... No employee should ever feel unsafe at work or worry about retaliation for sounding the alarm on misconduct.”

The report makes seven recommendations:

1. Leadership should seek to ensure that convening orders identify the specific allegations to be investigated, including the names of the complainants, the alleged victims, and the alleged perpetrators.

2. Leadership should ensure that qualified investigators are free of even the appearance of a conflict of interest and are independent of the unit in which the allegations occurred.

3. Leadership should ensure that individuals assigned to investigate allegations of harassment and bullying are appropriately trained in conducting such investigations.

4. Leadership should establish guidelines regarding the process for adjudicating complaints on the basis of investigatory findings.

5. Leadership should ensure that investigative reports meet the standards set forth in the Coast Guard’s Administrative Investigations Manual.

6. Leadership should prohibit actions that could have a chilling effect on complaints or interfere with investigations.

7. Leadership should ensure that anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies and procedures are followed.

The report is available here.