Bill Strengthens Protections for Military Whistleblowers and Improves Procedures for Correcting Military Records
Washington, D.C. – A bipartisan group of Senators praised the passage of provisions in the Senate National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that will strengthen protections for military whistleblowers, including sexual assault survivors, and reform the military correction boards to ensure that servicemembers who experience reprisal are provided relief. The reforms were supported by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Jon Tester (D-MT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Joni K. Ernst (R-IA)
“Too often whistleblowers in the military who simply tell the truth end up risking their positions, or in terrible circumstances, even their own well-beings,” Senator Markey said. “We must do everything we can to ensure whistleblowers, especially those shining a light on the devastation of sexual assault, are protected and are not subjected to harassment or retaliation for serving as modern-day Paul Reveres. I am pleased that this provision passed as a part of the NDAA, and I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to support whistleblowers who come forward when critical issues arise.”
“The passage of these reforms will help ensure that whistleblowers who experience reprisal receive justice and that retaliators are held accountable,” Senator Boxer said. “Servicemembers who bravely speak out about wrongdoing or misconduct—especially sexual assault survivors—must be protected from retaliation.”
“Our national security is strengthened when service members and civilian employees can come forward to report waste, fraud or abuse in the military,” Senator Wyden said. “The Senate’s action on whistleblower protections in the military shows that there is strong, bipartisan support for protecting those whose commitment to serve our country includes shining a light on problems that need to be corrected regardless of how much support they may have in the chain of command.”
“With 62% of survivors reporting retaliation, this legislation is critical. We need to give survivors hope that if they report, their allegations will be taken seriously and they will not be retaliated against for reporting a crime,” said Senator Gillibrand. “And we need to ensure that the inspectors general of the Department and of the services and their staffs are capable of meeting the needs of survivors and other whistleblowers.”
“Reprisal against military whistleblowers is a serious problem,” Senator Grassley said. “Investigations of reprisal are often handled poorly and with little oversight, adding insult to injury. Protecting whistleblowers and holding retaliators accountable throughout the government is necessary, and the more we can do, the better. Whistleblowers are the ones who know where injustice is taking place and where taxpayer money is being wasted.”
“It’s critical that we provide military whistleblowers, such as sexual assault survivors, protection from retaliation to ensure they are able to continue to shed light on instances of wrongdoing,” Senator Ernst said.“Our bipartisan reforms included in the NDAA take important steps to provide such protections for whistleblowers, and will empower more to come forward to expose injustices.”
The Military Whistleblower Protection Act (MWPA) provides protections against retaliation for servicemembers who report instances of waste, fraud, abuse and illegal activity. Whistleblower retaliation claims in the military are investigated by the Department of Defense Inspector General (DODIG) or one of the Service—Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force or Coast Guard—Inspectors General.
However, these claims are rarely substantiated, and numerous Government Accountability Office audits have pointed to serious quality issues in investigations conducted by the Service Inspectors General. In Fiscal Year 2014, the DODIG and the Service IGs together closed 645 claims of whistleblower retaliation, and less than 5 percent—or 26 claims—were substantiated.
In the rare cases where a claim is substantiated, servicemembers must then navigate a complicated, bureaucratic records correction process at the Boards for Correction of Military/Naval Records. While these boards have broad authority to remedy systemic injustices and provide relief when all other options have failed, Army training documents have shown that Board members spend an average of less than four minutes reviewing each application.
The provisions included in the Senate National Defense Authorization Act would better protect military whistleblowers—including sexual assault victims—against the retaliation they may face for reporting a crime by:
· Banning commanders from initiating retaliatory investigations against servicemembers who blow the whistle;
· Providing an avenue for intermediate relief when a retaliatory action would cause significant hardship to the servicemember;
· Requiring the service Secretaries to report on corrective or disciplinary action taken against retaliators;
· Requiring the development and implementation of uniform training standards for Inspector General investigators;
· Requiring a Comptroller General review of the integrity of the Department of Defense whistleblower program.
And it would ensure that servicemembers—including whistleblowers—are able to receive fair and thorough consideration at the Boards for Correction of Military/Naval Records by:
· Instructing the Boards to obtain relevant medical or personnel records to ensure servicemembers are not turned away by military corrections boards simply because they are unable to obtain their military records; and
· Requiring the development and implementation of uniform training standards for Board members.
Our servicemembers who bravely come forward to report wrongdoing should not fear retaliation or have their careers derailed for doing the right thing. These reforms represent a significant step in making sure our military whistleblowers are not just protected in writing, but in reality – and will ensure that servicemembers seeking restitution through military correction boards have a chance of obtaining the justice they deserve.
Senators Boxer, Wyden, Markey, Grassley, Johnson and Ernst are members of the Senate Whistleblower Protection Caucus.