Washington, DC – Congresswoman Jackie Speier (CA-14), Chair of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee, issued the following statement after the conclusion of the congressional hearing with the members of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee:  

“What we heard today reinforced what I have said for nearly a decade—the approach to sexual violence at Fort Hood, the Army, and the broader military has failed scores of survivors and demands massive reform. The panelists confirmed claims that Fort Hood is the most dangerous military base in the country, maybe in the world, with some of the highest rates of violent crime and suicide. And the toxic culture of sexual assault, harassment, and retaliation toward the soldiers who have reported offenses is a culmination of years of inexcusable neglect and failure from the top,” Chair Speier said. “Among the many staggering problems discussed in today’s hearing was the fact that Fort Hood was used as a training ground for new criminal investigators, which left Fort Hood’s criminal investigation division outmatched and overwhelmed. Using the worst location to train investigators is like throwing new recruits, without basic training, into the heat of the worst battle. It’s a recipe not for just breakdowns, but absolute miscarriages of justice.”

“The panelists also made clear that the mess was hiding in plain sight—commanders should have known and acted long before now. The rank-and-file soldiers made clear their lack of trust in command and their fear of retaliation in years of climate surveys that were ignored,” Chair Speier said. “While the Independent Review Committee’s report focuses on Fort Hood, the panelists noted violent crime and suicide are problems throughout the armed forces. We must broaden the scope of this investigation to include all U.S. military sites. All of the military services must implement the changes recommended in the report. And Congress must act. I look forward to the details of how the Army’s People First Task Force will implement these recommendations, and I urge the House to vote on the I am Vanessa Guillén Act, which would advance these goals, as soon as possible.”

Additional comments from Rep. Speier on the report of the Independent Review Committee:

“The report of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee is excellent work—groundbreaking, thorough, and definitive evidence that the Army must adopt major changes to effectively prevent and respond to sexual and domestic violence, demonstrate urgency in finding missing servicemembers, and reform a criminal investigative function that is inexcusably deficient. I thank the members of the Committee for their considerable efforts, which are a major service to the Army, our soldiers, their families and friends, and indeed the entire nation.

The Committee’s recommendations, as outlined in their report, are spot on and should be implemented as soon as possible at Fort Hood and broadly throughout the Army. The report makes clear that the Army’s Sexual Harassment and Assault Prevention and Response Program (SHARP) is not being implemented effectively at Fort Hood and in fact has structural flaws that must be addressed across the entire Army. As the Committee recommends, SHARP should be redesigned so that the officials who work on sexual violence prevention and response report to senior executive civilian leadership that is independent of the commanders they support, Sexual Assault Response Coordinators should be full-time professionals and include a mix of servicemembers and civilians, and SHARP should be treated as an essential specialty with a careful selection and professional development process to attract and retain the best people to this critical role.

Sexual harassment is rampant at Fort Hood and more broadly in the military, and the report identified weaknesses in the investigations for sexual harassment. I strongly agree with the Committee’s recommendation that sexual harassment investigations be reserved for trained and experienced personnel with a legal advisor, and that they should be conducted by officials outside of the chain of command of the subject. In fact, the I am Vanessa Guillén Act contains a provision that would do just that.

It is appalling—but unfortunately not surprising—that the Committee found that no one at Fort Hood is tracking the length and status of sexual assault and sexual harassment complaints from filing to resolution. This should be a basic expectation for leadership at every military installation. Further, the Committee’s recommendation that disciplinary actions for sexual assault and sexual harassment be publicized in a deidentified way would help send a message to the force that reports are taken seriously and that perpetrators are held accountable. I also welcome the Committee’s recommendation that breaches of confidentially with respect to a report of sexual assault or sexual harassment should be treated as a punitive offense. Perpetrators should be punished and shamed—not survivors.

One of the most disturbing parts of the report is the findings about the lack of capabilities of the Fort Hood Criminal Investigation Division (CID) office. The Committee found that the office was so underexperienced that investigators were not capable of drafting a successful warrant application, that the office did not have sufficient digital forensics staff to analyze evidence from computers and cell phones, that software licenses for the tools they did have expired during the middle of the Guillén investigation, and that constant turnover undermined investigations and contributed to a lack of coordination with other law enforcement organizations. The Killeen, TX, police department had requested to establish a cooperation agreement with Fort Hood CID and to have a CID agent embedded with the Killeen Police Department—both common practices at other military installations—but Fort Hood CID refused. These findings are shocking and embarrassing and reinforce the concerns I have heard from parents of soldiers about whether their sons or daughters are safe. CID’s operations must be strengthened at Fort Hood and should be reviewed across the Army. I strongly agree with the Committee’s recommendations that CID needs a critical mass of experienced agents at Fort Hood, more CID Civilian Special Agents for continuity and expertise in handling complex cases, more personnel and capabilities to conduct digital forensics examinations, a new staffing model that increases personnel continuity, and a comprehensive cooperation agreement with local law enforcement agencies that emphasizes both response and prevention of crime.

The Committee’s finding that Fort Hood did not have established procedures for how to address messing servicemembers in the crucial first 24 hours is infuriating. Even worse, the base military police refused to help find missing servicemembers even when asked until 24 hours had elapsed since the servicemember was reported missing. I am encouraged that these policies are already changing and that NCOs are being trained for how to respond when servicemembers miss accountability formation. These policies need careful monitoring and adjustment to ensure they are successful—the lives of our soldiers depend on it.

Even the best policies are useless if leaders are not committed to creating a safe and supportive climate that prioritizes the wellbeing of servicemembers and demonstrates zero tolerance for sexual harassment, sexual assault, and domestic violence. The Committee is right that leadership is essential. The report indicated that Fort Hood leadership had all the data they needed to know that the base climate had gone off the rails, that trust in command was weak, and that sexual violence prevention training was ineffective. It was all in the command climate survey data, but no one had bothered to review them in detail and act on them until the members of the Independent Review Committee had arrived. I agree with the Committee’s recommendation that leadership should, at a minimum, be required to use these climate surveys to identify problems and take action.

The Army should move as quickly as possible to implement these recommendations, and I look forward to learning detailed plans from the Secretary of the Army’s People First Task Force, which is charged with implementation. Congress also has an important role. The Independent Review Committee’s report provides ample additional evidence to support the changes included in the I am Vanessa Guillén Act, which would strengthen the military’s response to sexual assault and sexual harassment, including establishing independent investigations and making sexual harassment a standalone offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, as well as provide compensation for servicemembers who suffer sexual violence. I call on the House to vote on I am Vanessa Guillén Act as soon as possible.”

The Fort Hood Independent Review Committee report is attached to this press release.

For more information on the I am Vanessa Guillén Act, click here.

 

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