GAO says Pentagon IG is still adrift on investigating sexual assaults

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The Pentagon

US Air Force

Nearly 2,600 sexual assaults were reported to the Pentagon last year, but the office in charge of overseeing investigations of these assaults has failed to live up to its duty, according to the Government Accountability Office.

In 2006, the Defense Department put measures to prevent sexual assault into place, and an inspector general was put in charge of oversight. So far, the GAO investigation found, “The inspector general’s office has not performed these responsibilities, primarily because it believes it has other, higher priorities."

If this continues, the accountability office warned, the IG "will remain limited in its ability to help ensure consistency and accountability."

The report highlights the longstanding issue of justice in sexual assault cases, which both the military and college campuses have struggled with in recent years. As an iWatch News investigation showed, sexual assaults often happen without consequence because of poor policies at the highest levels.

In a response, the inspector general's office said it agreed with the recommendations and would make GAO’s recommended changes for fiscal year 2012. Reported sexual assaults were actually down in fiscal 2010, from 3,230 a year earlier.

The IG office did not accept that it had failed to live up to its mission.

"We disagree with the characterization that the DoD IG has not performed its responsibilities," said Inspector General Gordon Heddell in a statement emailed to iWatch News. "We've addressed the important issue of combatting sexual assault with the most senior officials in the Department and together expect to make progress in addressing this issue."

In a letter to the accountability office, Assistant Inspector General John Crane said the IG did not need to create policies specifically for sexual crimes because his office had in place, “policies that are applicable to all investigations.”

As iWatch News has reported, sexual crimes many times pose different challenges and should be approached differently. The GAO discounted the inspector general’s argument and said that it was required to address sexual assault with a policy specific to the issue.

The GAO called for collaboration between the branches and suggested they relocate investigative units to one location. The Department of Defense agreed, and said the Army’s investigation unit “has volunteered to take the lead” in developing a plan to share training and expertise.