Begich Aims to Add “Teeth and Transparency” to Investigations in Wake of Scathing Report on Alaska National Guard
No More “Fox Guarding the Henhouse”
After a meeting with the commander of the National Guard Bureau regarding last week’s scathing report of misconduct in the Alaska Army National Guard, U.S. Senator Mark Begich said he will introduce a bill to strengthen the Guard’s response to accusations of sexual assault and misconduct.
“Like many Alaskans, I was disgusted to learn that accusations of sexual assault and reports of retaliation, among other complaints, languished unanswered for years in the Alaska National Guard chain of command. It appears the safeguards in place were nothing more than letting the fox guard the henhouse,” said Begich. “The National Guard Bureau should have done a deep dive on these issues right away rather than waiting years. I am working on federal legislation to put some more teeth and transparency into the investigation process, and to ensure complaints are investigated promptly and effectively. I also believe the Guard should provide more transparency and information to Congress and the American people about the status of sexual assault investigations and the response efforts at the state level. There’s no silver bullet, but it’s clear we need to improve how this is handled in the future.”
Begich decided to craft the legislation in the aftermath of an alarming report from the National Guard Bureau Office of Complex Investigations that cited more than 200 cases of discrimination and sexual harassment over the last year alone. In addition the report found a culture of tolerance for wrong-doing spanning many years.
Begich expressed frustration that it took three investigations to confirm allegations of misconduct. The first investigation, requested by Begich in 2012 based on complaints received in 2011, as well as a second investigation, did not produce significant findings. Begich maintains the earlier efforts were inadequate in their investigation of these grave accusations.
Begich met with General Frank Grass, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, today to receive an overview of the OCI process, to discuss why it took so long to resolve these matters, and potential steps to prevent future instances. Begich received assurance from Grass that recommendations in the report will be implemented.
“It took a lot of persistence, and several years, to get to the bottom of the accusations. During that time, victims were subjected to discrimination and a hostile work environment that sometimes made them fear for their careers and even their safety,” said Begich. “I’m doing all I can to make sure we protect National Guard members from being put in this position again.”
Included in the OCI report findings:
- Respondents to the OCI Survey revealed 200 incidents of perceived discrimination and sexual harassment during the past 12 months;
- 35 percent of survey responded stated they would not report discrimination based on fear of reprisal;
- Substantiated complaints made against one officer resulted in no administrative action;
- The current AKNG’s Sexual Assault Prevention Response Program is well organized but lacks the trust of victims due to their lack of confidence in command.
The team found a clear lapse in appropriate military victim services prior to 2012. There were several instances where victim complaints were not properly documented, victims did not receive accurate information regarding their reporting options, victims were not referred to victim advocates, confidentiality was not provided, and in some cases the victims were ostracized by their leaders, peers and units.
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