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    Thursday, July 18, 2024

    Coast Guard delivers documents on harassment, bullying claims at academy

    The Coast Guard this week turned over more than a thousand pages of documents in response to a congressional inquiry into how the service has handled complaints of harassment and bullying at the Coast Guard Academy.

    The heads of the House committees on Homeland Security and Oversight and Government Reform and other congressional lawmakers had indicated they were prepared to issue a subpoena if the documents weren't produced by the close of business Tuesday. The Coast Guard complied with the deadline.

    U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Mississippi, who chairs the Homeland Security committee, said earlier this week that he was "frustrated" and "disappointed" by the Coast Guard and Department of Homeland Security "stonewalling" efforts by both committees to conduct oversight of the academy.

    "As chairman of this committee, I will not stand for misconduct within any department nor will I stand for anything less than full transparency when this committee attempts to carry out its oversight responsibilities," Thompson said.

    His comments came Tuesday at a hearing of the Transportation and Maritime Security Subcommittee at which the heads of the Transportation Security Administration and the Coast Guard were testifying.

    Adm. Karl Schultz, the Coast Guard commandant, said the service would be meeting the deadline and would be delivering "new information on nine inquiries and investigations" and more than 450 pages of emails featuring "minimal redactions." He did not go into further detail.

    "We continue to work with the Department (of Homeland Security) and the Office of General Counsel to be as responsive as possible," Schultz said.

    In his remarks, Thompson also referenced the case of a black, female officer at the academy who reported being subjected to harassment and a hostile work environment. An inspector general's report found she was retaliated against after making the complaints. Schultz said the Coast Guard is acting on all of the recommendations in the report, including updating its civil rights manual, and is close to rolling out new training to managers, one of the recommendations. He also said the officer's supervisor, the primary source of her complaints, "will be departing the service in September."

    Staff from the Homeland Security and the Oversight and Government Reform committees, and the office of U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, are just starting to review the documents from the Coast Guard.

    "This is not a parlor game in terms of getting documents requested. They are going to definitely be acting on it and there may be additional documents coming, that was basically implied in the cover letter" from the Coast Guard, Courtney said by phone Thursday.

    An area of contention is likely to be the Coast Guard's assertion that the documents may not be released publicly without its consent.

    "This discussion ideally will be wider than just the halls of Congress," Courtney said.

    The request for documents dates back to last summer, when Thompson, Courtney and U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., chair of the Committee on Government and Oversight Reform, troubled by an institutional assessment showing disparities for minority students at the academy and the removal of a department head for bullying, sent a letter to Schultz.

    They asked to review all documents relating to allegations of harassment or bullying made by any student or faculty member at the academy during the past three years, the results of any investigations into these allegations and the terms of any settlements reached. Connecticut's Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, both Democrats, made a similar request. Separately, the inspector general also is looking into how allegations of discrimination at the academy have been handled.

    The Coast Guard previously released about 70 pages of documents, but the lawmakers had said they were limited in scope and featured heavy redactions.


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