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DOD Takes Phased Approach to Implementing Recommendations on Sexual Assault, Harassment

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (July 21, 2021) -- The Defense Department plans to move forward with all of the recommendations made by an independent review commission on sexual assault in the military. The commission's findings and 82 recommendations were made public earlier this month, and the department will move cautiously and deliberately in implementing each of them, the deputy defense secretary said.

"I am taking a phased approach to developing comprehensive implementation plans across all of these recommendations," Kathleen H. Hicks said during testimony yesterday before the House Armed Services Committee. "Although we are on a fast timeline, our approach is methodical and deliberate."

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The Defense Department, Hicks reminded lawmakers, is the largest organization within the federal government, with nearly 2.9 million service members and civilians working at 4,800 sites in more than 160 countries. It'll be a challenge to implement the IRC's recommendations, she said.

"This issue set will require substantial leadership at all levels to ensure changes that challenge us in culture, resources and time ... are effective and enduring," she said. "We have no intention of rushing to failure and risking the loss of faith from those who have trusted us and to lose the trust of another generation of service members."

Hicks said she's been given until the end of the summer to go through all 82 recommendations and find a path forward for implementing each of them.

"Once we have our roadmap in place, our efforts will be consistently monitored by me and the department's senior-most leadership via the deputy's workforce council," she said. "The secretary and I are committed to ensuring sustained attention to drive these changes as effectively and expeditiously as possible."

Chief among the recommendations of the IRC is who will be charged with prosecuting those suspected of committing sexual assault in the ranks. Until now, it's been the domain of commanders to decide how to move forward when made aware of a sexual assault. With commanders no longer handling the prosecution of sexual assaults, the department plans to create dedicated offices within each military service to take over that role.

Also among recommendations made by the IRC is that sexual harassment charges be handled by investigators trained to handle special victims cases. The services will also create professional career tracks for lawyers and investigators in sexual assault investigation and prosecution.

"We will see to it that every corner of the department implements these changes in letter and in spirit," Hicks said. "Our service members deserve no less, and our combat effectiveness depends on our success."

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