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Monday, October 18, 2021
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GAO Notes Coast Guard’s Progress on Gender Disparities in the Military Justice System

The watchdog said that since its 2019 audit, the Coast Guard has developed the capability to report gender information in its military justice database.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported in May 2019 on gender disparities in the military justice system including the U.S. Coast Guard. Among other things, GAO found that Blacks, Hispanics, and males were more likely than Whites or females to be tried in general and special courts-martial in all military services. At the time, Coast Guard officials acknowledged that incomplete conviction and punishment data entry was a consistent problem. 

Earlier this month, the Coast Guard pledged to address a RAND Corporation report that found that 31 percent of Coast Guard members are racial or ethnic minorities compared with a 42 percent average across all services, and the number of women and minorities declines as rank increases as more under-represented members go into administrative roles instead of operational roles. Women and black personnel also have lower rates of retention. RAND said that members of the Coast Guard reported believing they were treated differently because of their gender or race/ethnicity. In response, the service’s Deputy Commandant for Mission Support Vice Adm. Paul F. Thomas said the Coast Guard will “strategically develop solutions to improve Coast Guard workforce challenges found in the research.”

On August 30, 2021, GAO provided an update on the recommendations it made in May 2019 regarding gender disparities in the military justice system. The watchdog said that since the 2019 audit, the Coast Guard has developed the capability to report gender information in its military justice database. Gender is now a required field in its military justice database, and gender now appears as a field on the database’s search screen.

Further, GAO found that the Army, the Navy, and the Coast Guard have taken key steps to collect and maintain consistent data for race and ethnicity. The military services have also begun reporting demographic data in annual reports that could provide greater visibility into potential racial, ethnic, or gender disparities. 

The watchdog determined that the services have started to collect complete nonjudicial punishment data. In October 2020, the Navy Judge Advocate General issued guidance, which provided that all Navy and Marine Corps officers performing military justice functions must report on a quarterly basis the results of all summary courts-martial and nonjudicial punishments completed by their command. At the time of GAO’s survey, the Navy and Marine Corps were collecting nonjudicial punishment data including offender and victim race, ethnicity, and gender data, as well as offense and punishment imposed using an Excel form that was included in the guidance. But Navy officials told GAO that collecting this information through Excel was an interim solution. For a permanent solution, the officials said that they expect to collect this information through their personnel database by October 31, 2022. Marine Corps officials stated that they expect to collect this information through their personnel database by October 31, 2021.

The Coast Guard meanwhile has also begun collecting more complete data on nonjudicial punishment cases. Specifically, in January 2021, the Coast Guard issued guidance which stated that nonjudicial punishment results should be entered into the Coast Guard’s personnel database, except when the charges are dismissed or dismissed with a warning. As a result, the Coast Guard currently collects nonjudicial punishment data including offender race, ethnicity, and gender data, as well as punishment imposed.

GAO’s review of work undertaken to meet its May 2019 recommendations also found that DOD has not identified when disparities should be further reviewed or studied the causes of disparities in the military justice system. Officials from DOD’s Office for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ODEI) said that DOD had approved funding to have the Center for Naval Analyses, a nonprofit research and analysis organization, conduct a study to identify further disparities in the military justice system. ODEI officials said that they plan to use the findings and recommendations from this study to develop guidance that establishes criteria and steps that will be taken to conduct a review on disparities. The study is expected to be completed around June 2022, but the exact timeframe for completion will depend on when the study formally begins. 

In addition to the ODEI study, four of the military services are also conducting studies about disparities. A senior Air Force official also told GAO that the Air Force is currently in the early stages of a collaboration with the RAND Corporation to conduct a Military Discipline Disparity Study. The official stated that the focus of the study is to identify potential causes of military justice disparities. As of June 2021, the official told GAO they were working with RAND on the scope of the review, and anticipated that the study will be finished by the end of fiscal year 2021.

Read the full report at GAO

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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