WASHINGTON – Army Sergeant Major Das’Chara Champ had no way of knowing that the answer to her question about racial discrimination poll data was correct in an office somewhere in the vast Department of Defense bureaucracy.
« Was there any kind of survey conducted on the perceived level of racism or racial discrimination in the army? » asked Champ, who is black, in a video played in a Pentagon town hall in September. 24.
At the other end of the question, were some of the U’s highest leaders. . S.. . Military: Then Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, Army General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Milley’s senior advisor, Ramon Colon-Lopez.
Virtual town halls like this one have been a way for Pentagon leaders to address racial discrimination concerns in 2020 among a military – America’s largest employer – that is diverse in the lower echelons, but largely white and male at the top.
Apparently without the knowledge of Colon-Lopez, who only responded indirectly to Champ, the Department of Defense not only conducts detailed surveys of discrimination, but has been legally obliged to do so since the 1990s. The last survey of active emergency services, which was carried out every four years, related to the 2017 financial year.
However, the Department of Defense declined repeated requests from Reuters to release the survey data for 2017, including at the request of the Freedom of Information Act. Nor was a separate report published on the 2017 survey data or clearly explained why the data was withheld for so long.
Maryland Rep. Anthony Brown, a retired Army Reserve Colonel and the only member of the Black Caucus of Congress on the House Armed Services Committee, said the failure to release the data was worrying.
« It’s very important to me, » Brown said, adding that Congress has established a clear reporting requirement and the public has a right to know.
Champ declined to be interviewed for this article, the Army said. Colon-Lopez did not respond to a request for comment.
In its final response to Reuters earlier this month, the Department of Defense declined the Freedom of Information Act request, saying the survey data was « information of a preliminary, advisory nature. ”
If released, the Pentagon claimed it could « reasonably be expected to interfere with the government deliberation process. « . ”
Nevertheless, the data is already so old that the Pentagon is now in a difficult position for the current fiscal year 2021, which ends on Sept.. ends up having to start planning another survey. 30th.
A Pentagon spokeswoman said the Department of Defense was close to finalizing its report on its 2017 fiscal year survey data and will make it available to Congress in the coming weeks. The spokeswoman did not explain the years of delay.
Don Christensen, a retired Air Force attorney general who heads Protect Our Defenders advocacy group, was skeptical of the Pentagon’s motives when he turned down requests to publish the data over a period of months.
« What it really means is that whatever you ask makes them look bad. And if it makes them look good, they’ll publish it, ”said Christensen, whose research has drawn attention to racial discrimination in the military.
A Reuters investigation earlier this year found that soldiers were far less likely than civil defense officials to express their concerns about discrimination through formal channels. Complaints about equal opportunities, say current and former service members, are often a dead end, which means that the complainant backfires little or not at all.
The Pentagon poll, known as the Workplace and Equal Opportunity Survey of Active Duty Members, examines such issues directly.
In the most recent publicly available survey in 2013, the data showed that around 16 percent of minorities in active service have experienced harassment, discrimination, or both based on their race or ethnicity.
President-elect Joe Biden underscored the importance of diversity in the Pentagon when he announced his election earlier this month: retired Army General Lloyd Austin, who would be the first black U.. S.. . Secretary of Defense, if approved by Congress.
“More than 40 percent of our active emergency services are colored people. It’s been a long time since the leadership of the department reflected that diversity, ”said Biden.
Rep. Brown, who strongly supports Biden’s choice of Austin, said he believes the retired U. . S.. . General would prioritize diversity in the Pentagon – even if the issue is addressed to Congress and the public.
« I think with Lloyd Austin we will get more transparency than in the past, » said Brown.
The Pentagon, US Department of Defense, Race, Mark Milley, Mark Esper
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