Coast Guard mishandled harassment and bullying complaints, House report says

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform and the Committee on Homeland Security released a joint report yesterday that said the Coast Guard mishandled complaints of harassment and bullying and failed to hold those in leadership accountable for their actions.

The committees launched an investigation 18 months ago to examine how the Coast Guard and the Coast Guard Academy handle allegations of harassment and bullying and whether the academy creates an inclusive environment that can support equitable outcomes for a diverse student body, the report’s executive summary said. The committees closely examined the Coast Guard’s handling of two interrelated cases involving allegations of harassment that were investigated under the Coast Guard’s Anti-Harassment and Hate Incident (AHHI) Policy and allegations of bullying investigated by Coast Guard leadership.

The investigation focused on examining the Coast Guard’s processes for receiving, investigating, and resolving allegations, the report said. This includes processes for determining whether any actions, such as disciplinary actions, should be taken in response to any findings resulting from investigations.

Although the two cases most closely examined by the committees involved faculty and leadership at the Coast Guard Academy, the AHHI Policy and the processes used to address allegations apply to the entire Coast Guard, including cadets at the academy and all civilian and military members of the Coast Guard workforce.

Based on the review of thousands of pages of documents and information obtained through multiple interviews with Coast Guard personnel, as well as a staff visit to the Coast Guard Academy, the report listed the following deficiencies in the Coast Guard’s processes for addressing allegations of harassment and bullying:

Leadership failures and accountability

Coast Guard military leadership failed to:
1. Conduct prompt, thorough, and impartial investigations of allegations of harassment and bullying;
2. Hold officials accountable for deficient and incomplete investigations; and
3. Take corrective action to address retaliation against individuals who report harassment and bullying.

Inadequate policies and procedures

The report said that significant improvements in both policies and procedures are needed to ensure the prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation and resolution of allegations of harassment and bullying and to ensure that the Coast Guard’s AHHI Policy is fully and consistently enforced.

In July 2019, 45% of female cadets reported that they had experienced sexual harassment in 2018 — an 11% increase over what was reported in 2016, the report said. Documents reviewed by the committees reinforced concerns regarding the climate and culture at the academy. The report said that the academy must make major reforms to address disparities and improve its culture.

The report listed seven recommendations, which focus on improving investigative processes at the academy and the Coast Guard. Implementing these recommendations, the report concluded, “must be one component of the Coast Guard’s broader, ongoing efforts to build a more equitable service that fully reflects the values and diversity of the American people.”

In general, the report said, “the recommendations identify the standards that investigative processes should meet, but they leave to the Coast Guard the development of policies and procedures to be added to the Civil Rights Manual, Discipline and Conduct manual, and any other relevant documents to ensure that these standards are met.”

The report said that the recommendations “should be considered a floor rather than a ceiling, and the Coast Guard is encouraged to consider and adopt additional measures to strengthen processes and procedures for investigating and resolving allegations of harassment and bullying.”

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