The House Homeland Security and Oversight and Reform committees told Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz this week that they want to see two officials answering questions about the Coast Guard Academy’s handling of harassment allegations before lawmakers within the next month, or they could face subpoenas.
Committee leaders assert that the Coast Guard hasn’t been cooperative since their document request in June 2018.
In that letter, sent upon Schultz’s appointment as commandant and when now-chairmen Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) were leading the minority at Homeland Security and Oversight, respectively, the congressmen lauded equal-opportunity progress at the academy but were “deeply troubled by the results of recent institutional assessments and questions about the Academy’s climate,” including reports on the Equity Scorecard that reflected racial disparities in graduation rates and disciplinary action.
They also brought up the May 2018 removal of Capt. Kevin Lopes as head of the academy’s management department after an investigation found he had bullied a subordinate earlier that year, though an academy spokesman said his removal was “the product of no single incident.” Thompson and Cummings requested all of the documents from that investigation and the previous three years of any harassment or bullying investigations. They also requested a briefing on the Equity Scorecard results.
In their new letter, the chairmen alleged that “our investigation has been repeatedly delayed by the Coast Guard’s lack of transparency,” including the submission of “heavily redacted documents” with the explanation that privacy of the parties involved would be compromised without the redactions. The lawmakers asked the Coast Guard in November 2018 for requested documents that had not been received, and said they subsequently got a binder before Thanksgiving “containing the items previously produced to the committee — still in redacted form” along with two pages not previously submitted.
In December, the DHS Office of Inspector General substantiated that Lt. Cmdr. Kimberly Young-McLear, an instructor at the Coast Guard Academy, “was retaliated against on the basis of her complaints” of discrimination and harassment. OIG also found that “her complaints were a contributing factor in the numerical marks in her OER for the period ending May 31, 2016” and “the totality of the evidence demonstrated that Complainant would have received higher marks absent her complaints.”
The Coast Guard accepted the OIG’s report and personnel have been undergoing training on preventing and responding to cases of workplace harassment.
After the OIG report was issued, Cummings and Thompson said they made other attempts, including to then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, to obtain requested documents. They began to receive “a rolling production of heavily redacted documents” in April.
The committees underwent briefings this month with Coast Guard officials, who they said told lawmakers that, per Schultz’s orders, they couldn’t answer any questions about past incidents involving academy faculty or cadets and instead wanted to talk about progress made since then.
Thompson and Cummings, who wrote that they were “deeply troubled by what appear to be repeated efforts by the Coast Guard to impede our investigation of the handling of allegations of harassment and retaliation at the Coast Guard Academy,” asked Schultz for transcribed interviews Dr. Kurt Colella, Dean of Academics at the Coast Guard Academy, and Rear Admiral Anthony J. Vogt, Commander of the Thirteenth Coast Guard District, no later than Sept. 18.
“If either individual fails to appear as requested, we will be forced to consider alternative means to obtain compliance,” the lawmakers warned.